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Gov. Rick Scott Signs Bills Requiring Backup Power at Nursing Homes

Sun Sentinel

SOURCE: Sun Sentinel

By Skyler Swisher

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities now will be required to have a backup power source capable of keeping residents cool during power outages — part of the state’s efforts to prevent the elderly from dying in sweltering heat after hurricanes.

Gov. Rick Scott signed bills Monday making permanent emergency rules put in place shortly after 12 residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills overheated and died after Hurricane Irma.

The storm knocked out the nursing home’s air conditioners in September, causing temperatures on the second floor to soar above 95 degrees, according to testimony in a court case over the state’s decision to revoke the nursing home’s license.

Hollywood Hills had a generator, and the staff tried using portable coolers. But the chillers could produce only 15 tons of the 125 tons of cooling capacity needed to keep residents safe, said William Scott Crawford, an engineer hired by the state to evaluate the disaster.

The new rules mandate that nursing homes and assisted living facilities have an alternative power supply capable of maintaining the temperature at 81 degrees or less for a minimum of four days. Portable power sources can be used, but they must provide at least 30 square feet of cool space for each resident.

Facilities will need to have three days worth of fuel available on site, but assisted living facilities with fewer than 17 beds would be allowed to keep a two-day supply.

Facilities will have until June 1 — the start of hurricane season — to comply with the rules, but they can seek an extension until Jan. 1 for delays related to construction, zoning approval and delivery.

The new rules mean residents are safer than they were before Irma, but consumers need to watch closely how the requirements are implemented and enforced, said Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, an advocacy group.

“Anyone who is responsible for caring for seniors should be able to assure families and consumers that their residents will be safe in the event of a storm,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to worry about their loved one dying of heat exhaustion.”

The governor — widely expected to run for U.S. Senate this year — signed the bills at a nursing home in Fort Myers, touting Florida as one of the first states to maintain such a requirement. He said families can now know nursing homes and assisted living facilities “will now have the resources needed to be fully prepared.”