A 9th nursing home patient has died as a result of power outages caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida. The power outages caused the air conditioning to stop working and as a result the facilities reach dangerously hot temperatures.
Nursing home residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, FL were evacuated from the nursing home last Wednesday morning after the medical staff from the nearby Memorial Regional Hospital began to see nursing home patients in the emergency room with “extraordinarily high temperatures.” Some of the patients who were admitted to the hospital had temperatures of up to 106 degrees. Once hospital staff realized something was wrong at the nursing home, they began evacuating patients from the nursing home to the hospital on stretchers. A lack of backup power is being investigated as a main factor that contributed to the deaths
Around the country, facilities have been caught unprepared for emergencies that don’t come close to the severity of a hurricane like Irma that hit Florida earlier this month. Nursing home inspectors issued 2,300 violations of emergency-planning rules during the past four years. 536 of those citations were for failure to maintain comfortable and safe temperature levels for residents. In addition, a third of U.S. nursing homes have been cited for failing to inspect their generators each week or to test them monthly.
The deaths at the Rehabilitation Center have focused attention on new federal disaster-planning rules, with which nursing homes must comply by mid-November.
The federal regulations that are currently in place are very broad in their language. They require that the facilities be “designed, constructed, equipped and maintained to protect the health and safety of residents, personnel and the public.” On November 16, long term care facilities will have more specific federal regulations that they have to abide by for emergency preparedness. One of those regulations requires the facility to have an alternate source of power to maintain safe temperatures to protect patients, and to keep food and medication from spoiling during a power outage.
The regulations don’t require all facilities, though, to have generators. They can have different backup power sources. “It is up to each individual facility, based on its risk assessment, to determine the most appropriate alternate energy sources to maintain temperatures to protect patient health and safety and for the safe and sanitary storage of provisions, emergency lighting, fire detection, extinguishing, and alarm systems and sewage and waste disposal,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said
These new regulations require Long Term Care facilities (nursing homes) to install and maintain emergency and standby power systems to maintain safe temperatures for residents, medications and food based on their emergency plan. Prior to the implementation of these new regulations, the existing regulations were vague on this topic in that they required facilities to provide emergency power at least for lighting all entrances and exits, maintaining fire detection, alarm and extinguishing systems, and powering life support systems. These new regulations are a positive step in that they specifically require facilities to provide a safe environment for their residents in the event of a disaster until they can be evacuated pursuant to the facility’s emergency plan.