Many Floridians are unaware of the countless acts of heroism by caregivers and the hundreds of successful evacuations and shelterings in place our members conducted during Irma. With the 2018 hurricane season almost upon us, it’s important to recognize the work they have continued in the months that followed to ensure the safety of the frail residents entrusted to our care.
Florida nursing care centers and their residents have seen more than their share of hurricane seasons, but few have carried the wallop we all experienced last year. The destructive season was highlighted by Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm that raced up the spine of our state, causing widespread devastation and resulting in the tragic loss of life at a South Florida nursing home. That center wasn’t part of Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), but the more than 550 nursing centers we do represent all shared in the sadness for the families and the black cloud it left hanging over our profession.
The best thing any Floridian can do during hurricane season is prepare well before storms make landfall. Nursing centers are no different, and last year, FHCA began monitoring the path of Hurricane Irma early. This provided many of our centers ample time to complete important tasks to meet the needs of some 68,000 residents, such as boarding up windows with metal shutters, gathering 7-10 days of medication for each of our residents, and assuring that evacuation plans were in order.
Since then, our members have been hard at work on preparations for the upcoming season. Building on the lessons of 2017, nursing centers have strengthened their preparedness measures, working closely with local emergency managers to help them understand the complex circumstances and needs found inside a long term care center. Since the tragedy at the Hollywood Hills center, FHCA has worked closely with Governor Scott and the state to implement a workable new generator requirement. Our centers have cooperated with community preparedness officials to ensure that plans will better protect residents’ health and well-being and maintain their comfort in the event of a power outage, making sure local authorities understand the need to keep nursing centers a top priority for emergency services, including restoring power.
The goal is for every nursing center to be in compliance with the new requirements by June 1, the statutory deadline and first day of hurricane season. However, it’s important to remember that centers can be considered in compliance either by having a permanent generator installed or by submitting a specific plan showing how they will ensure that residents will remain cool and safe if the power goes out. These new protocols are making Florida’s long term care centers better prepared than ever before, and they are receiving outstanding cooperation from federal, state, and local authorities.
The 2017 season carried some challenging lessons, and we have learned them well. As a result, we are more prepared than ever to keep our residents safe. We know there’s no such thing as being over-prepared, and we will do everything we can in the 2018 hurricane season to make sure our residents’ safety remains the top priority of FHCA members across Florida.
Emmett Reed is the Executive Director of the Florida Health Care Association