Florida’s nursing home industry is populated by hundreds of excellent centers staffed by thousands of dedicated, caring professionals. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable, that they will get painted with the same negative brush when one facility fails to meet the high standards we set for ourselves. It is grossly unfair, however, for that challenge to be exacerbated by misleading news reporting that inaccurately suggests that the long term care profession actively blocked reforms that could have saved lives.
Every compassionate person was shocked and saddened by the death of eight residents of a single South Florida nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Even though that center is not a member of Florida Health Care Association, all of us in the long term care profession were deeply troubled by the circumstances that led to these losses and look forward to the culmination of a thorough investigation, which will hopefully shed light on that situation.
After Florida endured the one-two punch of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when eight named storms battered our state, FHCA reviewed emergency protocols and took numerous steps to make our centers as safe as possible. As part of these efforts, we fully supported legislation that would have helped nursing homes upgrade their emergency power generators by providing partial state reimbursement if the facilities agreed to take in residents from nursing homes in evacuated areas.
The goal of this proposal was to increase the number of nursing homes suitable to care for frail residents when their centers were no longer safe in the aftermath of a disaster. With FHCA’s support, the 2006 legislative proposal passed the Florida House and cleared two Senate committees, but stalled when the Senate Appropriations Committee balked at funding it. FHCA protested that without an appropriation, the bill amounted to an unfunded mandate. The bill died in Appropriations – the victim not of industry opposition, but of whoever pulled the funding from the proposal.
Despite this documented history, the most prominent story on the front page of Friday’s Miami Herald proclaimed that the nursing home industry helped killed the measure. Not only is this unfair to the many members of our profession, it is also patently inaccurate.
FHCA’s member centers are dedicated to doing everything possible to help provide a high quality of life for our residents, particularly during the most challenging times. Faced with Hurricane Irma, for example, we have worked tirelessly with utility companies to help them understand the importance of making nursing homes a priority so these facilities can get their power restored as quickly as possible. We also secured ice, chillers, and other resources to keep our residents and safe and comfortable as possible.
Throughout the past decade, we have recognized the obvious benefits of having effective backup generators in all nursing homes. My team and I have spoken with hundreds of nursing home administrators before, during, and after this hurricane and have learned countless stories of caregivers putting the needs of residents above their own or of facilities taking in residents from evacuated areas so they can be safe. Those stories have been eclipsed by the tragedy in Broward County, but that shouldn’t diminish the heroic actions of individuals across the state who put resident care above all else.
When the dust settles, we’ll have ample time to reflect on lessons learned and how we can improve upon emergency planning. Our focus right now is getting every nursing home in the state back to full operations, so we can meet the needs of our residents. The men and women of the long term care profession do heroic work every day, providing the best possible quality of life for many of our state’s most fragile individuals. They deserve better than to have their reputations tarnished by the tragic events at a single nursing home.
Emmett Reed is Executive Director of Florida Health Care Association, the state’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at [email protected].