The recent tragedy in which 12 Florida nursing home residents died when the facility lost power during Hurricane Irma is causing government officials to rethink disaster planning.
In response to the deaths, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced a new emergency rule, requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state to have generators capable of maintaining comfortable temperatures for four days after a loss of power. Fire marshals must inspect the generators within 15 days after installation. The rule goes into effect immediately and lasts 90 days, after which it needs to be renewed. Florida already required nursing homes to ensure power, food, water, staffing, and 72 hours of supplies. The governor hopes to make the emergency rule a permanent part of Florida law.
The incident is also shining light on a new federal rule that is scheduled to take effect in November. The rule, enacted in response to 215 people dying in hospitals and nursing homes in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, requires that nursing homes have an alternative source of energy to maintain temperatures. However, the rule does not specify that the nursing home must have a generator or the ability to power air conditioning. It also provides no funding to nursing homes to assist in purchasing the type of generator required to power an air conditioning unit.
Officials at the Hollywood, Florida, nursing home where the recent deaths occurred – which is across the street from a hospital that was fully functioning at the time -- is facing serious consequences. To start, the facility has lost its Medicaid funding and its license to operate has been suspended. In addition, the Hollywood police department has opened a criminal investigation into the deaths that could lead to manslaughter charges. Lawsuits by patients' families have already begun. The nursing home had a two-star rating (out of five) from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, based on the fact that the state had cited it for 11 health deficiencies in its most recent inspection.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility, or you are trying to choose a facility, you may want to ask to see the institution's emergency management plan, especially if the area is a vulnerable one like Florida, according to The New York Times. You may also want to ask whether the plan includes a backup generator to power the air conditioning system. Many facilities do not even have air conditioning anywhere except common areas, however. No doubt, given recent events, you will not be alone in inquiring about emergency preparedness.
It remains to be seen what lessons can be learned from the Florida tragedy. According to a Kaiser Health News investigation, nursing homes have been caught unprepared for far more mundane emergencies than hurricanes and rarely face serious consequences for their lapses. For details, click here.