The recent tragedy in which eight Florida nursing home residents died when the nursing home lost power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma is causing government officials to rethink disaster planning.
In response to the tragedy, 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 doesn't supply any 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 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. 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 Center 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 on in a nursing home or assisted living facility or you are trying to choose one, especially if it is in a vulnerable area like Florida, you may want to ask to see the facility’s emergency management plan, 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. For more on questions it raises, click here.