Florida nursing homes are pushing to be protected from liability for harm to residents during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
But the industry’s failure to fully comply with a 2018 law requiring nursing homes to have backup electric generators could impede those efforts. Incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, suggested Friday that compliance with the generator requirement could affect how leaders consider requests for lawsuit protections.
“I would suspect the state would have no mercy on folks who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing or should be doing. And if you are one of the facilities of critical care, you need to get your generators in place. Hurricane season starts June 1,” said Simpson, a member of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force.
Another task force member, Florida Power & Light President and CEO Eric Silagy, said a lack of generators could risk the lives of residents with COVID-19.
“For me and others in the electric space — particularly when there’s no such thing as a hurricane-proof electric system — there will be some outages,” Silagy said. “Also, if there is a secondary outbreak of COVID, I fear that any extended outage without a backup generator to operate not just air conditioning, but ventilators and other necessary equipment, will just be exacerbated by this pandemic. And lives would be lost that wouldn’t need to be.”
The generator requirement was pushed by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2017 after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning system at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a nursing home in Broward County. The deaths of as many as 12 residents were attributed to sweltering heat in the building.
In addition to moving forward with a requirement for backup generators to cool nursing homes, the state also revoked the license of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Meanwhile, FPL also has faced allegations that its crews did not respond quickly enough to get electricity back to the Broward facility’s air-conditioning system.
A review of state data indicates that 68 percent of the state’s 691 nursing homes have been able to install generators and fuel tanks to comply with the requirement and obtain all the necessary local and state approvals.
Another 102 facilities have obtained variances from the law. However, in order to receive variances, the facilities must have onsite temporary generators and must have the capability to obtain the fuel necessary for 96 hours of power.
But 17 percent of the licensed providers don’t have installed generators or variances.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew told members of the Re-Open Florida Task Force that her agency has been working with the long-term care industry on full implementation of the law. Mayhew said some nursing homes have not been able to comply because of the “size and scope of their facilities and the magnitude of generators they needed on site.”
More than 91 percent of assisted living facilities have complied with the mandate, in part because the facilities are smaller and generators to power ALFs can be purchased from home improvement stores.
Mayhew told the panel that her agency would continue to “push for the permanent generator to be installed.”
DeSantis formed the Re-Open Florida Task Force to make recommendations about how the state’s economy could be revived after massive shutdowns because of COVID-19. Simpson, who is slated to become Senate president in November, was asked to spearhead a working group on how certain sectors of the economy — including health care — could be reopened.
Groups representing physicians and hospitals are pushing for medical-malpractice protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while nursing homes are seeking protection from liability for any harm or damages to residents during the crisis.