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Debbie Wasserman Schultz Promises Nursing Home Bill, Talks Puerto Rico

Pedro Franco, who lost both of his parents to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, says the nursing home system needs to change.
Caitie Switalski
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After 14 people died at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills following Hurricane Irma, the ongoing question of what to do about nursing home regulations at the federal level has been answered. At least, by one lawmaker. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced on Monday that she is planning to file a  bill, and if it is passed she says it will strengthen how rules for nursing homes are enforced around the nation. 

“We will put the emergency preparedness rules applicable to nursing homes, in law because keeping vulnerable patients safe must have the force of law behind it,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Clearly, just requiring it in rules and regulations is not enough.”

Washerman Schultz  said her  bill would, among other things,  increase fines for facilities that break rules. It would also add nursing homes to the critical infrastructure list for power restoration after storms. And all nursing homes would be required to have alternate forms of energy to be able to power an air-conditioning system for at least 96 hours after a storm hits.

Several families of patients who were affected by the Hollywood Hills tragedy stood alongside the congresswoman to talk about the sweltering conditions their loved ones somehow survived. Except, Pedro Franco. 

He talked about how much he misses his mother and father. Cecilia and Miguel Franco both died as a result of the tragedy, nearly a month apart.

“It’s unbelievable that in the United States, things like that happened just because there’s not enough laws enforcing nursing homes to act quickly,” he said. 

Washerman Schultz announced she plans to file the bill sometime this week. 

After speaking with the families affected by the Hollywood Hills tragedy, the congresswoman also talked about her trip Saturday to visit Puerto Rico’s devastation from Hurricane Maria. 

She traveled to the island  alongside three other members of Congress and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. The group visited the capital San Juan and the rural Southeastern part of the island, one of the hardest-hit areas. They also met with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló and representatives of U.S. agencies. 

“Everywhere you look, it looks like, you know, matchsticks...everywhere,” said Wasserman Schultz. 

Now, she says she’s preparing to welcome an influx of Puerto Ricans to her district, which includes a large part of Broward County.

“I have about 40,000 Puerto Ricans in my own congressional district and we expect obviously many of their families and friends will be, will be coming — they’re already coming,” she said.

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Caitie Switalski