Irma nursing home deaths: Backup power rule OK’d in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Legislature has approved a rule requiring backup power sources in the state’s nursing homes, prompted by the deaths of several residents at a sweltering nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The state House and Senate both unanimously okayed the measure Monday and it now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it. The measure would require facilities to have a generator capable of keeping facilities at 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) or lower for at least four days. It also requires them to keep 72 hours of fuel on site.

The rule was originally issued by Scott and Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, following the deaths at a South Florida nursing home after Irma last year.

The original rule stated that nursing homes and assisted living facilities had to be in compliance by Nov. 15 or face a fine of $1,000 per day. But a state administrative judge sided last October with nursing homes that had challenged the tight deadlines.

Justin Senior, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, said last week that the rule would give seniors adequate protection in the event of a disaster.

All 577 nursing homes in Florida must be in compliance by July 1. As of Jan. 8, more than 100 were already in compliance. Authorities can grant an extension until Jan. 1, 2019, for nursing homes that would face delays in installing equipment.

The bill did not include mandating generators at assisted living facilities. Scott wants that included, and the Senate is working on a separate bill to get those facilities included.

“Our position has not changed — assisted living facilities need to be included,” the governor’s press secretary Lauren Schenone said in an email. “We are continuing to work with the Florida Legislature to make sure this gets done.”

State laws also mandate that any rule that increases the costs for a business over $1 million over a five-year period must be ratified by the Legislature. According to a Legislative staff analysis, the total costs for nursing homes to be in compliance statewide would be $108,224,945. The estimated cost for a generator for a 120-bed facility is $315,000 according to an AHCA study.

State Rep. Travis Cummings, who chairs the Health & Human Services Committee, said the costs for the state’s 2,951 assisted living facilities would have put financial constraints on those facilities and the state.

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