Editorial: Excuses, extensions no replacement for backup power

A mere six days before the start of the 2018 storm season, according to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), only 48 nursing homes and 91 assisted living facilities (ALFs) reported having the equipment or passing site inspections showing they have the necessary backup power for cooling in case of a blackout.

Another 348 nursing homes and 343 ALFs requested extensions to give them more time to install equipment and have it inspected to meet the requirements set by new rules put in place by the Florida Legislature earlier this year, AHCA added.

RELATED: Nearly 2,000 assisted living facilities fail to report on generators

For the record, there are 685 nursing homes in the state and 3,102 ALFs. They were given until June 1 to assure us they could care for tens of thousands of our state’s most vulnerable residents if a storm knocked out power and their air-conditioning.

We’re still waiting.

And despite Gov. Rick Scott and a Republican-dominated legislature promising a hard line against nursing homes and ALFs in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the families of these residents are still waiting.

As state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, told the Post’s John Pacenti: “After Irma, I got a lot of calls from family members who couldn’t get hold of a loved one. They just want to know if their loved ones are safe after the storm. It’s scary.”

Their worst nightmare scenario unfolded in Irma’s aftermath last September when 12 elderly residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died from the sweltering heat after the facility lost power. Their deaths, the subject of a homicide investigation and several lawsuits, prompted Scott to initially issue emergency rules that required facilities to have generators installed. But the emergency rules sparked successful legal challenges from some industry groups concerned about the potential costs. The state appealed the decision and continued to enforce the rules, but also worked with Republican legislative leaders on codifying a pair of permanent rules.

RELATED: Editorial: New generator rules address equipment, not system

But these new rules don’t require that the equipment be installed, which indicates it could be portable, and don’t mandate a generator be used to keep air temperatures cool. They instead suggest generators but allow for each provider to determine the most appropriate equipment to meet their facility needs. Nursing homes and ALFs are required to submit a safety plan verifying they’ve met the requirement to supply electricity and keep temperatures at 81 degrees or lower for 96 hours.

So what does it say that even with these watered-down rules, 254 nursing homes and 313 ALFs have already been approved for extensions up to Dec. 31 — including 17 and 16 in Palm Beach County, respectively — long after this hurricane season will be over?

“I don’t believe it’s fair to say that if a facility submitted a request for an extension it doesn’t mean they won’t be ready,” Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said in an email to News Service of Florida.

The FHCA, which represents the state’s nursing home industry, and others blame the facilities’ delays on everything from local zoning approvals to construction delays to an inability to schedule site inspections. According to data from AHCA, which is charged with tracking and enforcing the new rules, only 68 nursing homes had been surveyed and approved by the agency’s Office of Plans and Construction. State fire marshals, who are also authorized to assist in inspections, have approved 96 ALFs as of May 25.

Skip Gregory, who served as Florida’s chief of health care facility plans and construction for 17 years, told the News Service of Florida that the industry is moving to comply with the new rules but that it takes time.

“It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers and saying. ‘Let there be air conditioning at all nursing home and ALFs,’ ” he said.

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No one expected all nursing homes and ALFs to meet the June 1 deadline, for many of the same reasons cited by industry representatives. But the number reported by AHCA is both dismal and less than reassuring. As of May 25, for example, seven nursing homes and 82 ALFs in Palm Beach County had yet to report their emergency power plan.

It should be noted that a final accounting is expected by Friday.

Rather than continue to making excuses, we hope more nursing home and ALF operators show they’re making preparations.

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