Hurricane

Nursing home industry plans summit in wake of governor’s generator rule

Eight residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died when cooling equipment malfunctioned after Irma.
Eight residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died when cooling equipment malfunctioned after Irma. emichot@miamiherald.com

Florida’s nursing home industry expressed support for Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency rule requiring increased generator capacity to help harden nursing homes in a disaster, but it has concerns about the practicality of implementing it — especially in time for the end of this hurricane season.

To address their concerns, the industry’s trade association has called a “Nursing Center Emergency Preparedness Summit” on Friday in Tallahassee.

This past Saturday, Gov. Rick Scott announced that he was directing two state agencies to implement emergency rules to apply to all 685 nursing homes and 3,109 assisted living facilities in the state to require them to “obtain ample resources, including a generator and the appropriate amount of fuel, to sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures for at least 96 hours following a power outage.”

The rules come after eight residents at the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills in Hollywood died Wednesday when a portable air cooler malfunctioned. The center’s 145 patients were left inside the sweltering building after Irma moved through and knocked out power.

The tragedy, which sparked outrage across the country, has led state and local leaders to check up on other assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout Florida.

On Saturday, power was restored to at least three nursing homes and 10 assisted living facilities housing elders in Florida. But the lack of power forced at least one ALF to evacuate residents, state emergency officials reported Sunday.

The list of post-storm evacuations from ALFs, which unlike nursing homes often have fewer resources and smaller staffs, continued to grow Sunday to 194, up from 193, which was reported on Saturday.

State officials would not provide any details on how many elders and disabled cannot get back into their homes because of the storms and would not provide the Herald/Times a list of the homes that remain evacuated or closed.

The state reported that 205 of the state’s ALFs are using generators, although it is unknown whether these generators are powerful enough to operate air conditioning. Another 176 report being closed, the state said.

Of the 685 nursing homes in Florida, 645 have power.

Among the healthcare facilities in Florida, hospitals are doing the best, state emergency officials report. There are only three that continue to rely on generator power and eight remain closed. The state would not provide a list.

And while ALFs and nursing homes are still coping with the aftermath of Irma, the governor ordered the new rules be adopted swiftly and take effect in 60 days. The Atlantic hurricane season extends until Nov. 30.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents 550 of the nursing homes, said the timing might be problematic.

“We look forward to working with the governor, the Legislature, and regulators to discuss how these meaningful goals can be achieved timely and reasonably, including implementation, funding support and regulatory procedures for nursing centers for this purpose,” the association said in a news release Sunday.

Among “host of concerns” about the rule’s implementation, said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the group, is how the senior homes will pay for the equipment, the timing of the generator requirement, and also what they should do with the fuel required to power the generators. She said that there may be local zoning laws that prohibit homes from hosting the amount of fuel needed to power generators for four days.

The summit will include “long-term care providers, utility companies, generator suppliers, emergency management personnel, regulators, government officials and other emergency planning partners,” the release said.

“We want as many minds around the table as possible,” Knapp said.

Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.

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