Nursing Homes To Have Generators, More Oversight Under Proposed Law

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Florida’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities would be required to have generators and the fuel to run them under a state law proposed Wednesday — echoing an emergency order from Gov. Rick Scott following the deaths of 14 residents at a Hollywood Hills rehabilitation center after Hurricane Irma.

But the legislation goes beyond Scott’s order — which has been protested by the industry over its tight timetable — and imposes stricter oversight on long-term care facilities, including allowing undercover investigators and monitoring cameras.

“The truth of the matter is for two decades the regulatory and legislative oversight system for nursing homes has been chipped away at, and this tragic event has exposed deeper flaws that go much further than the lack of adequate generator power for these facilities,” said state Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, the bill’s co-sponsor.

His district includes The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County. Eight residents died there Sept. 13, three days after the facility lost power from Hurricane Irma, sending room temperatures soaring. Six more residents died after being rescued.

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The latter addresses one of the criticisms of the emergency order Scott issued in September, which gave the industry until Wednesday to respond with its generator plans and waiver requests or face fines. The order also gave the facilities until Dec. 1 to install the generators, many of which would likely be large industrial models available through special order.

The tight timetable prompted a legal challenge that, so far, has been upheld. The governor’s office is still appealing, though Scott’s administration continued to insist on Wednesday that the facilities were required to respond or face fines of $1,000 a day or license revocation.

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As of Monday, the state said, 1,250 assisted living facilities had not responded. Several Orlando-area facilities on that list did not return calls seeking comment.

“Facilities may still come into compliance today,” Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for the state Agency for Health Care Administration, said late Wednesday afternoon. “We will have an update on nursing homes [Thursday], and an update on ALFs early next week. AHCA will continue to work to enforce this life-saving rule.”

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But Stephen Turner, an attorney for the Florida Assisted Living Association, said the state has no legal basis for the sanctions.

“It would be nice if the governor followed the law,” Turner said. If fines are imposed, he added, he would sue.

Both the assisted living association and the Florida Health Care Association, which represents over 80 percent of the state’s nursing homes, said they support Scott’s goal of having back-up power in the event of prolonged power outages. It is the deadline they oppose.

“These are not generators like you can buy at Home Depot,” said Kristen Knapp, communications director for the Florida Health Care Association. “They’re significant size. Some of them have to be custom-ordered. And then these are 30-year-old plus buildings that may need new construction and new wiring. You can’t just plug it in.”

For the state’s assisted living facilities — the smallest of which has only three residents — the requirement may also bring a hefty financial burden, said Shaddrick Haston, CEO of the Florida Assisted Living Association.

“Our association commends the governor on the need for generators in the state of Florida,” he said. “We are encouraging our members to understand that that’s a position that’s not up for debate. I mean, seniors need to be safe and feel safe. However, we have always had a problem with the turn-around time — and we’ve had concerns as it relates to the amount of fuel storage required and whether there are less restrictive ways to accomplish the same goal, such as solar power.”

>It seems as though it would have been a no-brainer that this would have been required years ago. — Brian Lee, executive director, Families For Better Care

Still, some industry critics contend the facilities should have had emergency power plans, including generators, long before Irma came along.

“It seems as though it would have been a no-brainer that this would have been required years ago,” said Brian Lee, executive director of the consumer group Families for Better Care and a former Florida long-term care ombudsman. “It’s a shock to me that Florida is not better prepared to mitigate these power outages. What I saw firsthand as an ombudsman as far as their emergency plans — they’re pretty bad. They’re vague. This is a wake-up call.”

The bills filed Wednesday would give Lee’s former office more independence to evaluate nursing homes and assisted living facilities and give staff the power to conduct undercover evaluations using officials posing as patients or employees. The bill also gives patients’ families the option of setting up video cameras to monitor care.

“Unfortunately, I fear that our elderly have become nothing more than a commodity,” Farmer said. “And we need to change that.”

grohrer@orlandosentinel.com or ksantich@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5503.

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Source : http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-nursing-home-generator-rule-law-20171115-story.html

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