In September, elected officials, long-term care center administrators, advocates, and influencers stood together before a standing-room only crowd at a town hall meeting in North Miami Beach City Hall to take a solemn vow. We pledged that we would never allow our senior citizens to be subjected to catastrophic conditions like the ones that occurred when the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills lost power during Hurricane Irma’s passage.
Those deplorable conditions led to the deaths of residents whose lives might have been saved through precautions and practical measures. Calling 911 or moving the residents to the hospital that was just a few steps away from the nursing home could have prevented these senseless deaths. Instead, the ailing residents were not moved until it was far too late, after languishing for days in insufferable heat.
The number of deaths due to the conditions at Hollywood Hills during and after Hurricane Irma has climbed from eight to 14 since the town hall meeting. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Francesca Andrade, Dolores Biamonte, Carlos Canal, Carolyn Eatherly, Cecilia Franco, Miguel Antonio Franco, Estella Hendricks, Betty Hibbard, Manuel Mario Mendieta, Martha Murray, Gail Nova, Bobby Owens, Alice Thomas and Albertina Vega. I will not let their deaths be in vain. I will do everything within my power to prevent similar needless tragedies from happening again.
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I launched an honorary task force at the town hall meeting to address first response efforts at long-term care facilities. Members include congressional and state lawmakers, mayors, first responders, labor unions, advocacy groups, and long-term care providers, who will work in smaller groups tasked with specific missions and goals.
I also am introducing legislation to require long-term care facilities that receive federal funding and resources to have a backup generator or other power source to protect residents, particularly senior citizens, from severe weather conditions. Other measures include a bill to create a grant program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fund generators and backup power source equipment for certain nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and another that would direct FEMA to prioritize assistance to such service providers in response to major disasters and emergencies.
I will hold a bipartisan congressional field hearing on their preparedness and response to disasters that will be attended by members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), the Ranking Democrat on its Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management; Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL); Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); and other lawmakers. The Transportation Committee’s field hearing will take place on Thursday, October 19, 2017, at 1:00 p.m., at Miami Dade College, North Campus.
I invite the public to attend the field hearing to listen to testimony from experts and officials on ways to ensure that these tragedies never happen again. This must be a priority because Florida has one of the highest concentrations of long-term care facilities, with a disproportionate number–totaling more than 1000–in my congressional district of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
We are the guardians of our seniors and it’s up to us to create a safety net for them to ensure that they receive the care that they deserve.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Miami Gardens) represents Florida’s 24th Congressional District.