They ran on emergency generators for the 48 hours they were without power—and in retrospect, Arbor Glen, on Monroe Street in Bridgewater, is pleased with the job done to keep residents safe in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
“Power was out for 48 hours, and our operation ran on emergency generator during that period with no interruption of services to our residents in health care,” said James Wells, president and CEO of Arbor Glen. “Our residents in the residential part of the campus did not have emergency lights, except in the hallways and common areas, and had to be guided by staff and trained volunteers to have meals, maintenance of medical needs and care.”
The storm was a trying time for residents throughout the township dealing with a loss of power and damage to their homes. But for those at Arbor Glen, it was about keeping the senior citizens safe and connecting them with loved ones in other parts of the country who were worried for their safety.
“We used our Facebook page to provide updates to family members living throughout the country about what was going on at Arbor Glen,” Wells said. “This proved to be effective and popular.”
In addition, Wells said, they worked to monitor the comings and goings of the about 300 individuals living in the residence.
“And we housed several family members of residents who could not remain in their homes,” he said. “Our security staff and CERT members kept careful tabs on all residents.”
During Hurricane Irene in September 2011, Wells said, the residence did not lose power, so they did an extensive analysis to determine safety concerns and other issues.
This time, Wells said, they did plan for a power outage.
“Through a series of meetings and written communications, we made everyone aware of the approaching storm,” he said. “In advance, we trained residents and volunteers in the state’s CERT training through the state Office of Emergency Management for health care.”
Wells said this was a very effective plan.
“It proved to be wonderfully effective, as we had round-the-clock hallway monitoring services throughout the storm and the aftermath,” he said. “We also conducted a post-hurricane analysis for improving our response next time.”
Wells said the organization will have to continue to investigate its training and preparation methods to make any changes where necessary.
And resident Ulla Honberg said these provisions worked out well.
“Since we lost power for a few days and our apartments were dark, people assembled in the halls, which were lit by a generator,” she said.
That, Honberg said, proved to provide a silver lining.
“Residents all of a sudden became friends, got to know each other better and shared the difficult time together,” she said. “Games were played, wine was consumed and stories were told.”
“A difficult time suddenly became pleasant and a good-lasting memory,” she added.
At one point during the storm’s aftermath, Wells said, they almost lost the emergency generator because the diesel fuel delivery system in Linden was knocked out.
“The entire region suffered a fuel shortage,” he said. “Thankfully, we had enough until a new supply line was created.”
“We will probably have another tank installed for excess fuel,” he added.
For the future, Wells said, they will have to assess independent residents more closely to determine who among them can handle themselves in a crisis such as this, and follow the directions.
“Many seniors, living in their homes or in a retirement community’s independent section are not capable to provide for themselves, and require assisted living-like services during the aftermath of an emergency,” he said. “We will set up structures around them so they can be managed during a future crisis.”
Wells said that if the power outage had lasted longer than it did, he was concerned they would have to expel much more effort to feed, provide medications and do more for those who are supposed to be independent.
“Thanks to the CERT training and Arbor Glen’s rigorous planning, we were positioned to handle these needs,” he said. “A crisis like this helps us understand the depth of need as people age, and often deny the fact that they cannot manage as well as they would like to manage.”
In addition, Wells said, he would like to work with Somerset Medical Center to provide a support system for nearby senior communities.
“Many seniors in the surrounding community depend upon electricity for their medical services and did not plan for such things as oxygen or nebulizer treatments during a power outage,” he said. “We will likely develop a triage for helping these residents with simply medical needs to be provided for in a less intensive environment than a hospital.”
Charlotte McAfee, president of the Arbor Glen Resident Council, said the management was definitely ahead of the game in preparing for the storm this time.
“Families came to feel secure and have company as they visited with our Resident Watch Volunteers in games and lively conversation,” she said. “We felt safe and cared for throughout the storm.”