Health Care

CDC to states: After a hurricane, restore power first to vulnerable people

A file photo shows a woman being transported from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as patients were evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 in Hollywood.
A file photo shows a woman being transported from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as patients were evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 in Hollywood. AP

The nation’s top health agency has a suggestion for Florida to prevent future deaths after a hurricane: Restore power first to places with vulnerable people, such as nursing homes with elderly residents whose chronic medical conditions make them especially prone to heat-related illnesses.

After Hurricane Irma struck Florida in September, the most common reason people died after the storm was a medical condition made worse by stress and heat, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — precisely the circumstances that contributed to the deaths of a dozen people in a sweltering Hollywood nursing home in the days following the storm.

The tragedy at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County led state legislators to adopt new rules requiring all of the state’s 685 nursing homes and 3,101 assisted living facilities to install back-up generators by the start of the 2018 storm season on June 1.

But most facilities blew the deadline, requesting more time to install generators and have them inspected. As of Thursday, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates medical facilities, reported that 85 percent of providers were in compliance.

The CDC report, which also called for more detailed documentation of disaster-related deaths, does not address the use of generators after a storm. Rather, it suggests that nursing homes and other medical facilities be prioritized for power restoration.

Chris McGrath, a spokesman for Florida Power and Light, said the utility designates all hospitals and 911 dispatch centers as critical infrastructure that should have power restored first. After that, he said, FPL defers to each county’s emergency management leaders to prioritize power restoration after a storm.

“They obviously know their needs the best,” he said.

The CDC examined the 129 hurricane-related deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina after the 2017 storm, and found that most — 123 — occurred in the Sunshine State in the aftermath of Irma.

Across the three states, 115 deaths were attributed to unsafe conditions created after the storm. That number includes 23 deaths due to chronic health problems, such as heart disease, exacerbated by stress and anxiety, and 17 that were considered heat-related and associated with a lack of air conditioning, and three in people whose medical devices, such as an oxygen machine, lost power.

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