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Generator Issues Continue To Confront State, Industry

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Requiring nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to install generators after the deaths of residents at a Broward County nursing home continues to be an outstanding issue as lawmakers head into the 2018 legislative session.

Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor, blasted Gov. Rick Scott’s administration on Monday after she wrote a $1,200 check to pay for public records she requested from Scott.

Graham asked for the records after residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died following Hurricane Irma, which knocked out the facility’s air-conditioning system. Nursing home officials contended they tried to seek assistance from Scott by calling a cell-phone number that he had distributed before the storm hit the state.

“We need to know exactly what went wrong so we can prevent an incident like this from ever happening again,” Graham said. “I wish the governor or Legislature, with all the state’s resources, was fully investigating the tragedy and why the state didn’t intervene to help.”

The Scott administration came under fire because it deleted voicemails related to the Broward nursing home. The administration contends it told nursing-home officials to call 911 if residents needed medical attention.

In the public-records request, Graham asked for all communications between Scott’s private phone number and the nursing home and all communications in the governor’s office and two state agencies concerning the deaths at Hollywood Hills.

The governor’s office said it would cost $1,200 to carry out the public-records request.

The number of reported deaths stemming from the tragedy has ranged from a low of eight to a high of 14. The Agency for Health Care Administration contends in legal documents that 12 residents died as a result of conditions at the nursing home following the storm.

In response to the deaths, the Scott administration has put in place rules that require nursing homes to have backup power generators capable of either cooling or heating the homes for four days. The rules have triggered opposition from groups that represent nursing-home and assisted-living facilities.

Nevertheless, the state’s largest nursing home group, the Florida Health Care Association, said Monday it would like the agency to quickly finalize a pair of proposed permanent rules requiring the generators. That way, the Legislature can ratify the rules during the 60-day legislative session in time for the 2018 hurricane season, said the group’s lead lobbyist Bob Asztalos.

But he acknowledged that it won’t be easy. Other industry groups have filed legal challenges to the proposed permanent rules, and Administrative Law Judge Gar Chisenhall has scheduled a hearing in the dispute. Chisenhall issued an order in October that rejected emergency generator rules by the Scott administration.

Asztalos said he hopes the Scott administration will work with the industry to hammer out an agreement on the permanent rules. He stressed that the industry shares Scott’s goal to have backup generator capability but that the disagreements have centered on how to implement the requirements.

And if an agreement is reached, Asztalos said, the process of implementing rules will be slow. The 60-day session begins Tuesday and is slated to end March 9.

“Time is not on our side,” he said.