229234 Portrayals of nursing homes and their residents in American newspapers during natural disasters, 1999-2008: Social justice and the management of disposable lives

Monday, November 8, 2010 : 10:30 AM - 10:45 AM

Julia Rozanova, PhD , Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research, Department of Community Health, Brown University, Providence, RI
Terrie Fox Wetle, PhD , Programin Public Health, Brown University, Providence, RI
Edward Miller, PhD , Department of Gerontology, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Boston, MA
Vincent Mor , Bio Med Gerontology Health, Brown University, Providence, RI
It is argued that a society's ethical foundations are revealed by how it treats its most vulnerable members. While research considered how nursing homes handled natural disasters, and the consequences of (mis)management in terms of lost lives, little attention has been paid to portrayals of nursing homes at times of natural disasters in print media, and the significance and meanings of these representations.This paper explores portrayals of nursing homes in the context of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 51 American newspapers, including 4 national papers (The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times) published in 2005 and retrieved from the LexisNexis database. Quantitative content-analysis of 2,000 articles about nursing homes and their residents explores correlations between the negative tone of each article and its focus on quality of care, financing, elder neglect, and governmental and legal actions. Supplementary qualitative thematic analysis of 50 articles published on a newspaper's front page reveals a focus on structural inequalities, with differences observed between stories of facilities that either decided to or were forced to shelter in place, versus those that chose to evacuate their residents. Attention is paid to conflicting stereotypes of economic effectiveness versus social justice that underlie portrayals of triage when scarce resources need to be allocated between persons more and less likely to survive. Findings are discussed in the context of current public policies regarding nursing home preparedness for natural disasters and protection of vulnerable seniors whose lives may become virtually disposable.

Learning Areas:
Communication and informatics
Diversity and culture
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
To describe stereotypes and ethical values underlying portrayals of nursing homes and their residents at times of natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 51 American newspapers. To discuss conflicting values of economic effectiveness versus social justice that manifest in newspaper stories about triage preceding evacuation or rescue missions when scarce resources were allocated between nursing home residents considered fit to continue living and those who were unlikely to survive and were left behind. To outline implications for a print media communication strategy that portrays the role of long term care institutions in handling natural disasters in a balanced and fair way.

Keywords: Disasters, Nursing Homes

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have conducted research that this paper reports, in collaboration with my co-authors, using the most rigorous research methodology.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.