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Nursing Home Deaths in South Florida Lead to New Rules

Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida Sept. 10 and devastated the state. The storm caused an estimated $42.5–$65 billion in damages, and some cities were left without power for weeks. Indeed, power outages are a common result of such powerful storms (Irma was the strongest hurricane observed in the Atlantic since 2005). This is dangerous for all residents, but elderly individuals who reside in retirement centers and nursing homes are especially vulnerable.

A Fatal Catastrophe in Hollywood, Florida

These facilities are required to have certain equipment and supplies in the event of a power outage. These include a generator, food, water, and adequate staff support to care for all residents for up to 72 hours without electricity. Unfortunately, the minimum generators required are only strong enough to power a few systems.

Hurricane Irma, Patient in WheelchairFor the residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida, this fact became a worst-case scenario. Hurricane Irma caused a power outage at this facility, which then lacked sufficient energy to run the air conditioning throughout the building. This led to the deaths of eight residents due to lethally high temperatures.

In response to this disaster, Governor Rick Scott announced a series of new rules Sept. 16, 2017, requiring that Florida nursing homes and assisted living communities have generators that can maintain comfortable temperatures for residents for at least 96 hours if the power goes out.

Florida’s New Power Laws

There are also proposed federal laws in direct response to the fatal events in Hollywood. Here’s an overview of requirements in the new emergency plan proposed by the Agency for Health Care Administration:

  • Facilities must have the power (a generator and sufficient fuel) to maintain comfortable temperatures for at least 96 hours in the event of an outage.
  • The state fire marshal must inspect the generators within 15 days of their installation.
  • Facilities must comply with the requirement within 60 days of the announcement.

There is some opposition to these new rules. Not only is the purchase of the equipment expensive, but the cost of running a generator for up to four days would substantially increase every facility’s power expenses. Moreover, there is no state support to cover these costs. This fact, combined with the short compliance window, may lead facilities to push back against the new laws.

Legal Consequences

Assisted living facilities are charged with caring for our most vulnerable loved ones. Especially in a state like Florida where storms are likely during the hurricane season and often lead to power outages, the measures put forth by Governor Scott aim to keep residents of nursing homes and retirement communities safe at all times.

In addition to this emergency ruling, these facilities must obey other regulations set forth by the Department of Elder Affairs. Specifically, retirement communities and nursing homes must comply with standards of care to avoid charges of elder abuse. The emergency ruling put forth Sept. 16 simply extends the responsibilities that these organizations already have to keep their residents safe.

News will continue to unfold regarding the emergency ruling as facilities push back against the requirements or hurry to increase their power capacity in order to comply with the mandate. For more information on elder abuse laws and how Governor Scott’s decision may affect your loved one’s rights, reach out to David W. Singer & Associates, P.A.