A little more than a year ago, when another major storm hit Florida—Hurricane Irma, which cut electricity to most of the state—one nursing home lost air conditioning for its elderly residents. The sweltering heat that resulted killed 12 people at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a court eventually ruled. In the wake of the tragedy, Florida's lawmakers passed a rule that requires nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have back-up power ready in case of emergencies.
Now, as Hurricane Michael bears down on the Florida Panhandle, how many nursing homes and assisted living facilities there are ready to keep their residents cool and safe?
In 12 out of the 35 Florida counties where Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency because of Hurricane Michael, there are facilities that don't comply with the new rule, according to state data that's updated daily. In all of those counties, a majority of the facilities are considered legally in the clear, covering 91 percent or more of the available spots in licensed nursing homes or assisted living facilities in the county. Still, that leaves 1,270 licensed beds in facilities with no generator, nor any submitted plan to cope in the meantime.
In addition, those "compliance" numbers don't specify facilities that haven't yet put in a permanent generator, but instead have requested or received extensions to the state's July 1st deadline. Nursing homes can request extensions if they don't have a permanent generator, but demonstrate that they have temporary plans in place to keep residents in rooms cooled to 81 degrees or lower for up to 96 hours in case of power loss, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. The state's Agency for Health Care Administration's look-up tool doesn't break down, by county, how many nursing homes have asked for extensions while waiting for permanent generators. But in the larger regions that include counties that are under a state of emergency from Hurricane Michael, 50 percent of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are listed as having a generator that meets the law, 45 percent are listed as having asked for an extension, and 5 percent as having done neither.
"If a facility is not following the law, we will aggressively issue fines," Justin Senior, secretary of Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, told the Wall Street Journal in September. The agency had by then issued more than 1,200 notices of violation across the state. The fine for not complying is $500, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.