Florida Gov. Rick Scott acted decisively with his administration’s rules to protect nursing home residents from power outages.
The tragic deaths of 14 residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home in during Hurricane Irma shocked the nation — and rightfully so.
Weeks later, it’s still baffling to understand how so many sickly and elderly nursing home residents were allowed to be overwhelmed by the heat in the building which had lost power — and air conditioning for days after the storm.
Scott was right to make sure that nursing homes have enough backup power in hurricanes. But his rules were unrealistic, according to a Florida court.
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An administrative law judge ruled that the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration did not have the authority to require all nursing homes and assisted living facilities to purchase generators and fuel by Nov. 15.
The judge ruled that there was no evidence that the tragedy at Hollywood Hills was representative of the entire nursing home industry in Florida.
Hearings on the case are scheduled for January. By no means should that be taken to mean no action is the proper course. Such a tragedy as what happened at Hollywood Hills nursing home can never be allowed to happen again in Florida
Moving away from the initial, but understandable, knee jerk reaction, the nursing home industry ought to be consulted in order to come up with a workable solution. Cost is a factor, as well. Many nursing homes operate on a slim profit margin.
If installing expensive backup generators puts them out of business, then the people will suffer.
The fact is that nursing homes can’t just go to Home Depot, buy a generator and plug it in, representatives of the Florida Health Care Association recently told the Times-Union editorial board.
The fact is that each generator must be custom-built for each nursing home. Room must be found for gas tanks. This takes time as well as money.
For a 60-bed facility, it could easily cost $200,000 and take 90 days to complete the installation.
The association represents over 80 percent of the state’s nursing homes. The Hollywood Hills nursing home was not a member of the association, but should not be an excuse to avoid taking some new preventive action.
A total of 1,500 nursing centers and assisted living facilities participated in 35 disaster training sessions conducted by the association in the 18 months preceding Hurricane Irma.
The association proposes:
▪ Require all nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators. This could include new, rental or supplemental power supplies.
▪ Maintain 96 hours of fuel through on-site storage or transportation arrangements.
▪ Ensure residents are monitored for heat complications and that staffers have a plan to transport residents to a safe facility if needed.
▪ Include homes with elderly residents to be specifically included in the priority list for power restoration with utilities like FPL
Today’s nursing homes are treating residents for many serious health conditions that require power.
Because of the horrible tragedy, Florida should be a national leader in protecting the health of its senior citizens.
And so the lessons from Hurricane Irma should lead state leaders to do this right.
This editorial was first published by Florida Times-Union.