The horrific scenes from a South Florida nursing home, where 12 residents perished in the sweltering heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the facility, will haunt Floridians for a long time to come.
But the broad, sweeping rules Gov. Rick Scott mandated were unrealistic. An administrative law judge ruled in November that the Agency for Health Care Administration didn’t have the authority to force every nursing home and assisted-living facility in the state to invest in emergency generators and fuel by Nov. 15. That deadline sailed by, but in the spring, the Legislature adopted a modified version of Scott’s plan. The new law doesn’t require permanent installation of generators, but does mandate that every facility secure enough emergency power to cool 20 to 30 feet of space per resident for at least 96 hours.
As of May 25, 102 of the state’s 686 nursing homes had adequate equipment available, and another 348 had asked for six-month extensions, which certifies them as compliant under the law. The numbers are far worse for assisted-living facilities. In that category (which covers 3,102 locations across the state), only 205 have equipment lined up. Another 344 have approved extensions.
That leaves state regulators with a hairy decision. Do they level harsh fines against roughly two-thirds of the state’s long-term care facilities? Or do they simply throw up their hands and declare the entire mess “too big to succeed”? Neither option makes much sense. The best option may be for Scott and legislative leaders to negotiate a little wiggle room, understanding that the state must keep driving toward the goal of making each of these facilities as safe as possible, and as soon as reasonably achievable.
Eventually, all long-term care facilities should have on-site generators and adequate fuel, safely stored. But the state’s accelerated timeline was too tight to be realistic, and driving facilities out of business with harsh fines and license sanctions could only make matters worse.