Hurricane Irma Nursing Home Neglect

Hurricane Irma Nursing Home Neglect

Currently, protection of the elderly in nursing homes are the focus for many here in Florida after 11 residents in a Hollywood nursing home died.  They had gone several days without air-conditioning after losing power during Hurricane Irma.  The nursing home had a generator to support lifesaving medical equipment during the storm, but it did not have a generator for the air-conditioning system. Hurricane Irma damaged the transformer powering the air-conditioning.

Hurricane Irma Nursing Home NeglectThe first eight nursing home residents died September 13, 2017 after they were left in the home in sweltering heat for several days. According to the state investigation, the body temperatures of some residents were higher than 108 degrees, with one recorded at 109.9.  Three other patients died in the following several days.  The deaths and the circumstances surrounding the death have led the Agency for Health Care Administration for the State of Florida to suspend the license of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.  In the initial days following the deaths of the eight patients, the agency banned the facility from admitting new patients and from receiving Medicaid.  The nursing home filed a lawsuit challenging AHCA’s actions and protesting an order by Florida Gov. Rick Scott barring it from taking on new patients or Medicaid payments. In its complaint, owners argued the staff followed the nursing home’s pre-established emergency plan that was approved by the county and repeatedly called Florida Power & Light to restore power to the air-conditioning system.   Findings by the state refuted the allegations made by the home.  One television station reported the findings show residents of the facility did not receive timely medical care because the trained medical professionals delayed calling 911. Facility staff began calling 911 on Tuesday, Sept. 12 — two days after Irma hit. The facility has insisted it called utility Florida Power & Light 50 times, and said it called an emergency number issued by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.  The state’s investigation also found the nursing home’s staff failed to maintain contemporaneous records on patients, noting “records are replete with late entries” filed after the patients were evacuated.

Subsequently, Governor Rick Scott used his emergency powers to put in place new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators capable of providing backup power for four days. The governor gave nursing homes 60 days to comply.  Nursing home officials are pushing back and saying they will not be able to comply with the rules.  According to contractors and engineers who went on the record at a daylong summit by the industry, said it will be practically impossible to purchase, install and get permits to put generators and supplies of fuel in place by the November deadline.  The Scott administration has not backed down. Justin Senior, the state’s top health care regulator, said the state will “aggressively” enforce the mandate, which calls for fines for those homes that fail to comply.
What is sad is that there was a law proposed back in 2006 to require Florida nursing homes to have generators to power air conditioners.  What happened to it?  It died in the Senate due to politics.  Former state Representative Dan Gelber tried to create a mandate in 2006 forcing nursing homes to have backup generators strong enough to power air conditioners. A stripped down version of the bill that would’ve reimbursed nursing homes for generators passed the House, but died in the Senate.

Currently, Florida law 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.

It is our hope that when lawmakers come back together for the 2018 Legislative session this will all change.  Tragically it took the lives of 11 people to get the attention of lawmakers of how important such a law will be to protect our elderly.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of elderly abuse or neglect at a nursing home or assisted living facility, please contact us at Edwards & Ragatz for a free consultation.