How Safe are our Nursing Homes?

There is a Group in California that are on the lookout as to how safe and secure our Nursing Homes are.  We are vigilant in our thinking on this and the recent tragedy in which 12 Florida nursing home residents died when the facility lost power during Hurricane Irma is causing government officials to reconsider disaster planning as it has to do with our Elderly.

In response to the deaths, we have heard that Florida Governor Rick Scott announced a new emergency rule, requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state to have generators capable of maintaining comfortable temperatures for four days after a loss of power. In addition, Fire marshals must inspect the generators within two weeks of installation. This new rule goes into effect immediately and will last 90 days, after which it needs to be renewed. Although Florida already required nursing homes to ensure power, food, water, staffing, and 72 hours of supplies, the governor hopes to make the emergency rule a permanent part of Florida law.

This disaster and the ramifications of the Hurricanes incident is also causing the people to look more closely the new federal rule that is scheduled to take effect in November. The rule, enacted in response to 215 people dying in hospitals and nursing homes in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, requires that nursing homes have an alternative source of energy to maintain safe temperatures in the home. The rule, however, does not specify that the nursing home must have a generator or the ability to power air conditioning. Neither does the rule provide funding to nursing homes to assist in purchasing the type of generator required to power an air conditioning unit.

Owners and managers at the Florida, nursing home where the recent deaths occurred, which is located just across the street from a hospital, which, was fully functioning at the time may also be facing some serious legal and other consequences. It began by the facility losing its Medicaid funding and its license to operate a skilled nursing facility has now been suspended. In addition, the Hollywood police department has opened an investigation into the deaths which could lead to multiple manslaughter charges. Lawsuits by the patients’ families have already begun. The nursing home had a two-star rating (out of five) from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, based on the fact that the state had cited it for 11 health deficiencies in CMMS’s  most recent inspection.

So what can you do?  What does this have to do with you and your family?  We would suggest that if you have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility, or you are in the process of trying to choose a facility, you may want to inquire into what they have planned in case of a loss of power, water, and other essential services whether you are in Florida, New Mexico or California.  Not all Care Homes are created or managed equal. Make sure your loved one will be safe and protected in case of an emergency, as well as every day. You may also want to ask whether the plan includes a backup generator to power the air conditioning system and keep medications refrigerated. Many facilities do not even have air conditioning anywhere except common areas, however. No doubt, given recent events, you will not be alone in inquiring about emergency preparedness.

It remains to be seen what lessons can be learned from the Florida tragedy.  According to a Kaiser Health News investigation, nursing homes have been caught unprepared for far more mundane emergencies than hurricanes and rarely face serious consequences for their lapses.  Let us hope this has causes them to wake up and see the possibility of major damage or death if they remain unprepared.

Gregory R. Beyer, Esq.