ST PETERSBURG, Fla. – The deaths of eight residents at a Hollywood nursing home following Hurricane Irma, along with 50 nursing homes still without power statewide, have prompted many questions from 10News viewers regarding why nursing homes are not required to have backup power for air conditioning.
“It’s the worst. It’s politics,” former state Rep. Dan Gelber said.
Gelber tried to create a mandate in 2006 forcing nursing homes to have backup generators strong enough to power air conditioners. A watered-down version of the bill that would’ve reimbursed nursing homes for generators passed the House, but failed in the Senate.
“Bureaucracies kill people more than anybody else,” Gelber said. “It’s hard to get an elected body to prepare for something we haven’t experienced as a tragedy.”
Florida does require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have emergency management plans, which include plans for emergency power in the event of outages. However, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) says current law does not specify what the power source must operate.
In the case of Haines City Health Care Center, which did not have working air conditioning until Thursday afternoon, a backup generator kept some lights on and enabled the nursing home to plug in fans.
“I just break down when I’m away from there – do what I need to do,” said Karen Browning, whose mother lives at the facility.
A more powerful backup generator was delivered to the nursing home late Thursday.
A review of reports on the AHCA website shows that in April 2017, inspectors found that the Haines City facility “failed to maintain the essential electrical system (generator).”
Inspectors also reported the maintenance director “revealed he was unaware that the generator needed to have a routine maintenance program in place.”
But the nursing home pushed back, writing, “No residents were nor could be identified as being affected by this citation since the generator is performing flawlessly since it was rebuilt.”
An unannounced visit two months later found that the deficiencies were corrected. But following Hurricane Irma, it was evident the on-site generator wasn’t strong enough to keep the facility fully running.
Gelber is confident lawmakers will now turn their attention to the issue of keeping residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities safe during natural disasters.
He says, however, that action is coming far too late.
“It doesn’t provide solace to victims and their families,” he said.
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