With the 2018 Florida legislative session set to begin Tuesday, Florida’s nursing homes and long term healthcare facilities are hoping for a resolution to the issue of requiring the installation of backup generators to help keep residents safe during emergency situations.
They are also hoping a resolution will include state dollars to help cover a part of the cost of the installations.
“It was unfortunate what happened in the Hollywood Hills building,” said Bob Asztalos with the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA). “It never should have happened, those residents should have been kept safe, but it did. Now we look to make sure that it never happens again.”
A dozen residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County died in September after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the facility’s air conditioning units, creating sweltering conditions inside the building.
Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency rule after the tragedy requiring nursing homes to install electrical generators. But the rule has been tied up in legal challenges made by groups representing nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Those groups argue the governor’s rule doesn’t take into account the cost and time for the installation of generators.
FHCA is not part of the challenge. Instead, the group says it wants to work with Scott and the Legislature to address the issue. But, it agrees the installation of generators in nursing homes could be costly and time consuming for a lot of long term care facilities.
The association says it wants to work with Scott and state lawmakers over the course of the next 60 days to draft and ratify a new rule that will address the concerns of both sides.
“We think those pieces of legislation strike the right balance in giving nursing homes the mandate to safely take care of their residents … but to give us the flexibility to get there,” Asztalos said.
During a briefing on the association’s legislative agenda, FHCA representatives say they will ask state lawmakers to provide approximately $40 million over the next five years to help long term healthcare facilities offset the cost of the installation of generators.
FHCA officials say on average it takes between six months and two years to properly install a generator system with the average cost for installation in a 120-bed facility of $350,000.
The association says that adds up to $230 million for Florida’s 658 Medicaid nursing centers.
In addition to the generator issue, FHCA says it’s overall legislative package calls on the Legislature to increase Medicaid funding for nursing centers and to reject attempts by the state’s trial lawyers to repeal caps on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in cases involving nursing homes.
One of the issues on FHCA’s agenda doesn’t involve the Legislature per se, but rather the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) which will also be meeting in Tallahassee.
The CRC meets every 20 years to consider proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution. One of the amendments the commission is considering is the repeal of the state’s Certificate of Need (CON) program, a controversial regulatory process that is operated by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). The program requires approval from AHCA before new hospitals, nursing homes and other long term healthcare facilities can be built.
FHCA says eliminating the requirement for certificate of needs would result in more long term care facilities being built, which would undo the current balance that currently exists between institutional and home and community-based caregivers.
Another proposed amendment that the CRC could put before voters in November is a “Bill or Rights” for nursing home residents. FHCA says the measure is backed by trial lawyers and would expand who and how long term care facilities are sued.