Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nursing Home Deaths Could Bring Legislative Changes

It’s the middle of the day in Deland, a city between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Temperatures today are in the 90s.

At The Good Samaritan Society: Florida Lutheran retirement community, the doors are wide open. You can hear the hum of a generator that provides emergency power – but it isn’t big enough to run the air conditioning.

Mary Mosley, 92, is standing at the front desk, chatting with the staff going through old photos. She’s found one of her back in Michigan. She’s posing with a snowman.

“This is snow,” Mosley said. “This is where you live where the snow lives.”

It’s been three days without AC at the facility, where residents live in apartments, assisted living or one of the 60 nursing home beds.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities that lost power during Hurricane Irma are being evacuated throughout Florida.

Governor Rick Scott is asking first responders to check in and make sure that residents are safe after eight patients died at a nursing home facility in Hollywood Hills earlier this week.

But Mosley who lives in her own apartment isn’t complaining.

“If you don’t have something, they’re there for you. They’re very good,” Mosley said. “That’s about all you can do! Get cooled off.”

Cooling off without power will get easier in the future.

Right now, federal rules require nursing homes have backup power to run the fire suppression system, elevators and emergency lights. If patients are on dialysis, or a ventilator, that equipment must have emergency power.

Eric Cote is with Powered for Patients, a nonprofit that creates better emergency power system plans for health care facilities. He says air conditioning is NOT on the list of systems that are required for emergency power.

“However, this November, that is all going to change. New federal regulations are going to kick in that will require nursing homes, hospitals and longterm care facilities to have a form of alternative energy source for air conditioning.

On the state level, there are 84,000 nursing home beds. Florida law requires that if any of the state’s 600 nursing homes have a generator, it get tested during inspections. 

But that didn’t prevent the deaths at the The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills this week.

“I’m just appalled we’re still have these conversations.”

That’s Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, which advocates for nursing home residents.

He says this has been an issue for more than a decade.

“Post all the 04 hurricanes, post Katrina, post Harvey, and we’re still having these problems. We can’t get this figured out. So to go back to your original question, will this stir some action at the Legislature: Well by gosh I hope it does.”

Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican who chairs the health care appropriations committee in the Florida House, says there may need to be some regulatory changes for assisted living facilities. Brodeur says changes may need to come around inspections.

“A lot of these assisted living facilities that we would deem the mom-and-pops are not able to keep up with the current Florida building code standards,” Brodeur said.  “For nursing homes, state law already requires that nursing homes have transfer agreements with other facilities. But it’s hard to keep those agreements when 65 percent of the state was without power after the storm.”

Ric Morgan is the administrator of the Good Samaritan nursing home in Deland.

“We have agreements, we have agreements with some facilities where they were looking at evacuating, but we were having a hard time accepting them when we don’t have power yet. We’re in the same situation they are.”

Morgan opted to change their situation. They spent $30,000 to get a generator brought in big enough to power the air conditioning in their building with the nursing home.

“Once that’s in place we can take residents from the hospitals because they’re getting overloaded,” Brodeur said.

Out back, behind the Deland nursing home, one of the directors fires up a generator the size of a semi-trailer.

The rented generator will stay through hurricane season. Next year, the nursing home plans a more permanent solution.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.