As the 2019 hurricane season arrives, more than 1,000 nursing homes in Florida still do not have a permanent generator. Following the heat-related senior deaths during Hurricane Irma, legislators deemed that every nursing home should be prepared with a back-up source of power. However, many facilities are seeking loopholes to avoid compliance. Is this a tragic example of nursing home abuse or neglect? Or is there a logical reason why nursing homes are not following the law?
The Requirements of the Generator Law
Florida’s Generator Law requires each nursing home to have a backup source of power that can keep patient living areas at 81° or cooler for 96 consecutive hours following a power outage. Prompted by the tragic loss of life during Hurricane Irma, the law seems fairly straightforward.
Florida’s climate is notoriously hot and humid, especially during hurricane season. Power outages during tropical storms and hurricanes are far from rare occurrences this time of year. It almost seems as if a law requiring measures that would help keep nursing home residents cool in the Florida heat should have been unnecessary.
However, legislators passed the generator law and, despite its obvious provisions for the safety of fragile seniors, some facilities have yet to comply almost two years later.
Nursing Home Compliance Deadline Passes
The compliance deadline for the generator law is a thing of the past. A shocking and incredible 65 percent of nursing homes in the state have failed to install a generator or other backup source of power. To put it another way, there are more than 400 nursing homes in the state of Florida that with no way to prevent heat-related deaths in the event of power outage. Some of these 400 homes have filed paperwork seeking an exemption from compliance, and some have simply ignored the requirement.
A Laundry List of Excuses
ABC Action News in Tampa Bay reports that the state of Generator Law compliance in Florida is appalling. Investigators report that there are 125 nursing homes and 160 assisted living facilities in the Tampa Bay area alone that do not have approved and permanent generators in place.
It seems the problem is lack of enforcement:
- There is a state law that prescribes fines for non-compliant facilities for as much as $1,000 per day. However, facilities without generators rarely pay fines.
- Many facilities avoid the fines by applying for state-approved extensions of time.
- Most facilities blame installation delays and financial hardships as reasons to obtain the extensions.
- Some facilities have received as many as three extensions already.
A Particularly Egregious Offender
Consulate Healthcare is one of the largest conglomerates of nursing homes in the state, with 77 facilities. As an organization, Consulate has received multiple extensions of time to avoid compliance with the Generator Law.
Twenty-two of its facilities are in the Tampa Bay area, which is located in a hurricane-prone part of the state. These 22 facilities house 2,500 residents. To obtain extensions, facilities must submit an alternative emergency plan to compensate for not having the generator as required by law.
According to ABC, state regulators granted Consulate extensions after the company submitted, “nearly identical temporary emergency plans for all its Florida facilities.” Incredibly, all 22 temporary plans involve renting generators from one Tampa company that may or may not be capable of transacting business during a hurricane anyway.
These emergency plans also include provisos to evacuate residents from the Tampa Bay area if necessary to sister facilities. Though that sounds like a feasible plan, it would be a logistical nightmare, and likely an impossibility in the midst of a hurricane.
Consulate, on the other hand, says they have done nothing wrong. To ABC’s criticisms, they protest that they are in compliance with state laws. It is easy to see, however, that their alternative emergency plans are ripe for disaster in the event of a devastating hurricane like Irma, Michael, or Katrina.
What You Can Do If You Have a Loved One in a Nursing Home
Many nursing homes did comply with the Generator Law. A quick call to the facility should reveal whether or not they have a compliant generator installed. If not, you may consider relocating your loved one if you are concerned about hurricane safety.
With hurricane season bearing down on us, however, there may not be time to complete a relocation before disaster strikes. In that case, consider providing your loved one with an emergency preparedness kit to use in the nursing home. This kit could help prevent heat stroke or exhaustion.
Emergency supplies in a nursing home can be tricky because so many residents are unable to use many of the traditional items that might belong in an emergency kit. For example, it would not make sense for you to provide your loved one in a nursing home with, say, a generator of their own if they are not well enough to use it.
How to Stock an Emergency Kit
To that end, the American Red Cross has some suggestions for emergency preparedness items for seniors. The list includes:
- 3-day supply of drinking water in containers small enough to be lifted
- 3-day supply of foods that do not need to be cooked
- Flashlight with extra batteries (not candles)
- Battery operated radio
- First aid kit
- 7-day supply of medications
- Multi-purpose tool
- Sanitation items (bath tissue, baby wipes, plastic bags for garbage)
- Laminated card of easy-to-read contact information for friends and family members
- Emergency blanket
- Whistle (to signal for help)
- Personal information and identification in a waterproof bag
For any items that may need to travel or evacuate with your loved one, choose a bag that will be possible for them to carry, or separate the contents into two bags. Rely on emergency responders to move bulkier items like bottled water if necessary. Keep wheelchairs and walkers in a designated area, and label your loved one’s devices to avoid confusion in an emergency.
The key to an effective emergency kit is its permanent state of readiness. If you are building an emergency kit for your loved one for the first time, all the contents should be fresh and ready to use all throughout this hurricane season. At the start of next season, however, remember to evaluate the contents and make any changes to replace expired food and dead batteries.
Questions or Concerns about Nursing Home Safety?
If you have questions or concerns about nursing home safety, contact Nursing Home Abuse Center. Our legal team works with clients across the United States, including in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and California. If you need to know more about nursing home resident rights, we can help.
For a free consultation, call us at 1-800-516-4783. You can also reach us by completing our online contact form.