Senator Collins Introduces Legislation to Establish National Panel on Seniors and Disasters

U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has introduced bipartisan legislation to create a national advisory committee to look for ways to better prepare and care for our older Americans during a disaster, such as Hurricane Irma, which led to the deaths of eight seniors in a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida. 

“As we have learned from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey as well as past catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina or even the Ice Storm of 1998 here in Maine, some of our neighbors – especially seniors – face many obstacles during a crisis, and we must focus on the attention older adults may need,” said Senator Collins. “This legislation would help ensure that local, state, and federal officials are adequately equipped to care for the most vulnerable members of our communities during a natural disaster.”

The bipartisan bill – coauthored by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Bob Casey (D-PA) – would require the secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a National Advisory Committee on Seniors and Disasters. The 15-member panel would be appointed by the secretary of HHS and made up of federal and local agency officials, as well as non-federal health care professionals with expertise in disaster response.

Once established, the panel would be charged with providing guidance to local, state and federal officials on how to better prepare seniors for an emergency, how to better evaluate their health needs during an emergency and what activities should be carried out when an emergency is declared.

The legislation filed Tuesday now heads to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, on which Senator Collins serves, for consideration.

Senator Collins, who is also Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, recently led a hearing to examine policies and procedures for sheltering in place, evacuating, and relocating our most vulnerable citizens before disaster strikes. The hearing featured testimony from two health care experts and two emergency response strategists on what has been learned from past experience and what more can be done to ensure the health, safety, and resilience of older Americans during and after disasters, such as hurricanes.