FORT MYERS, Fla. — Following the deaths of eight elderly patients who spent three days in a smoldering hot nursing home, Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered nursing homes and assisted living facilities Saturday to obtain generators and the fuel necessary to run them within 60 days.
Scott issued the emergency rule to state agencies requiring facilities that care for the elderly to take the steps to "sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures for at least 96 hours following a power outage."
Scott's rule will expire in 90 days, and he vowed to take action against facilities that don't comply within the 60-day deadline. He said he will push legislation in the next session to make the rule state law.
The patients died Wednesday at the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills. On Friday, the nursing home's executives said Florida Power & Light and Scott delayed responding to their pleas for help after the facility lost power Sunday during Hurricane Irma.
Scott, whose staff said all calls from the nursing home were routed to state agencies, said Saturday in his statement that he was "outraged by the deaths.
"I am demanding answers as we furiously investigate this terrible loss of life. We must understand why this facility delayed calling 911 and evacuating patients and their decision to keep their patients in danger," he said.
"The inability for this nursing home in Broward County to protect life has shined the light on the need for emergency action," Scott said. "Failure to comply will result in penalties, including fines up to $1,000 per day and the possible revocation of a facility’s license."
Scott also took to Twitter, saying he would "aggressively fight for legislation to put this requirement into law in the 2018 Legislative Session."
Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book filed a bill Friday that would require all facilities to have working generators.
“One of the residents who perished lived to be 99 years old — but because of air-conditioning failure and human negligence in the days following a storm, this very special life was lost,” Book wrote in a statement. “We can prevent these things, which never should have happened in the first place, from happening again.”
The bill is identical to legislation proposed in 2006 that was shot down by the Legislature after nursing home owners protested, said Brian Lee, who served as the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman until he was ousted by Scott in 2011. He now heads the Austin-based nonprofit nursing home resident advocacy group Families for Better Care.
Lee said he fears the new proposal will suffer the same fate as the 2006 legislation.
"Pardon me for being cynical about emergency rule-making," Lee said, "but it will be dragged out until it's not in the news cycle."
Lee said legislation shouldn't wait.
"I give the governor credit for doing something," Lee said. "But can't he call a special session of the Legislature and get it taken care of? Why wait? A national crisis has been exposed in Florida that needs to be fixed – yesterday."