When they get together in Tallahassee on Friday, the members of Florida’s nursing-home industry can either circle the wagons or lay the groundwork to take a deep, honest look at how best to confront one of the worst tragedies the industry has seen.
The Florida Health Care Association has called a “summit” to address emergency preparedness. This comes after eight, then nine and, as of Thursday, 10 elderly residents in a Hollywood Hills nursing home were left to suffer and die because they were in an stiflingly hot facility that lost electricity as Hurricane Irma blew through.
The industry is rattled by Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency rule requiring that all nursing homes and assisted living facilities have a generator and fuel to keep buildings cool for four days after losing power.
It’s the right call now, and the right call back in 2006, when a similar proposal died in the Legislature. The industry helped throw it under the bus. And look what happened.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills had a generator, but not to power air conditioning, which made it useless as the residents were overcome. It also had a hospital across the street. But nursing-home residents were never evacuated there, not until after the first deaths among them.
Nursing home officials, inexplicably, blame Scott for their troubles, whom they called for help as the situation got worse. The governor had given his cell-phone number to a group of nursing home owners during a pre-hurricane strategy session.
But in a state report, Scott put the blame where it squarely belongs: “This facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision to not evacuate their patients to one of the largest hospitals in Florida, which is directly across the street.
“The more we learn about this, the more concerning this tragedy is.”
But zoom out from this one particular tragedy, and Floridians will find that, big picture, the Scott administration as well as industry muscle continue to give cover to nursing homes that shouldn’t be in business.
Time and again, the Legislature and the governor have failed to insist that nursing homes and ALFs are responsible actors in caring for sick and vulnerable Floridians. The failed generator legislation is but one example. Pushback against stringent state monitoring is another.
The Herald now reports that nursing home inspection results are heavily censored, blacking out unpleasant findings such as “bruises,” “substance,” and “accidentally.” This means that families looking for a safe facility for an elderly loved one can’t get a full accounting; and troubled families who suspect all is not well in a nursing home are left with more questions than answers — and little recourse.
This is wrong, especially when the state tries to hide behind the federal government’s skirts, alleging that its rules mandate keeping sensitive information from the public. The truth is, the Herald reports, the state must submit inspection reports to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which are available for public scrutiny — uncensored.
The people of this state deserve better than this. The discussion at Friday’s summit can’t stop at generators. Industry leaders must far more discussion about meeting the needs of such vulnerable residents. Why wait for another tragedy?