Evacuation plan was key for nursing home during gas disaster


NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — A nursing home was able to successfully evacuate 84 elderly residents during the major gas outage on Aquidneck Island thanks to years of planning and drills.

St. Clare Newport, a nursing home and assisted living facility that is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, lost heat on Monday afternoon due to the National Grid gas outage, just like many thousands of people in Newport.

Aquidneck Island Gas Outage: Vital resources »

But unlike other residents or business owners, the people who live and work at St. Clare couldn’t just flee the chilly building.

Mary Beth Daigneault, the administrator of the nursing home, said many patients have special medical needs and some require ambulance transport or wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The nursing home coordinates with the Rhode Island Mutual Aid Coalition for its evacuation plan, and conducts regular drills to practice.

On Monday night, Daigneault said the home decided to start evacuating residents to other facilities on Tuesday morning.

“It can be very complicated,” Daigneault said. “We need to make sure that we had the appropriate type of facility for them to go to, that it was the right type of bed, whether it was a male bed or a female bed, and whether it needed to be a secure unit for cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

The 84 residents were transferred to 14 other nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Rhode Island, and some went to stay with family. It took twelve hours to complete the evacuation, Daigneault said.

Even with the residents gone, Daigneault said her staff is incredibly busy. Part of the mutual aid agreement means the residents remain patients of St. Clare medical providers, and are not formally admitted to their temporary host facilities. So any medical orders or prescriptions are still coming from St. Clare, and staffers are driving medications to them. The temporary facilities are as far north as North Smithfield and as far west as Coventry.

Plus, a pipe burst in the home’s parking garage after the mid-week thaw.

Daigneault said she was incredibly grateful for the mutual aid of the other facilities, for her staff and for the ambulances that came to transport the residents. She said they’ve never had to use their evacuation plan before, and it turned out to be a crucial tool.

“This could’ve been a nightmare,” Daigneault said. “An absolutely nightmare. What I do understand through the Rhode Island Mutual Aid Coalition is this has been their largest evacuation that they’ve had to do. And, they said one of the smoothest.”

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