Hurricane-Related Nursing Home Deaths Change Florida Laws

FEMA - 17392 - Photograph by Jocelyn Augustino taken on 09-01-2005 in Louisiana

In 2017, Hurricane Irma became the most destructive hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005. But even after Irma’s powerful winds subsided, some of Florida’s most vulnerable residents were seriously injured or killed by the storm’s after-effects. One Miami-area nursing home lost power for several days, leading to the death of a dozen residents as temperatures continued to climb.

In the two years since Irma, and in an effort to prevent future such tragedies, the Florida legislature enacted some sweeping changes to nursing home regulations. These changes include a law requiring all nursing homes operating in Florida to maintain enough generators to keep the facility’s indoor temperatures from exceeding 81 degrees for at least four days after a power outage.

But since this law took effect, nearly 300 Florida nursing homes have been penalized for their failure to comply—and with more (and stronger) hurricanes on their way, this lack of compliance could put Sunshine State residents in danger.

Compliance with Generator Laws

As of late summer 2019, about 60 percent of nursing homes statewide (or 400 facilities) had been granted a one-year extension to come into compliance with the generator law. Facilities that fail to request such an extension or that remain non-compliant after that one-year period has expired could be fined, and many such fines have already been assessed.

But even facilities that have secured a one-year grace period are required to take some interim steps to ensure their residents’ safety. All such facilities must present evidence that they have performed at least one of the following actions: (1) created a workable evacuation plan; (2) arranged for the delivery of a temporary generator; or (3) made plans to secure a generator within 24 hours of a power outage.

What Nursing Home Residents Can Do

Florida maintains an online nursing home database that shows, in real-time, which facilities have implemented their contingency plans, requested an extension, or received a fine for failure to comply with generator laws. Nursing home residents and their loved ones who are concerned about a specific facility’s readiness for hurricane season can quickly access the facility’s status. And make sure that there is no neglect for the nursing home residents when it comes to being hurricane ready.

If the facility is listed as non-compliant, residents may be able to notify the appropriate authorities for enforcement action. Sometimes, bringing some media attention to the issue or contacting your local state representative or senator for assistance can go a long way toward spurring compliance. And fortunately, many of the facilities that are not fully compliant with generator laws are still working to create contingency plans until they can get permanent generators in place.