Florida State Capitol. Photo by Adobe Stock

Florida State Capitol. Photo by Adobe Stock

TALLAHASSEE – As Florida lawmakers prepared to gather in the state capitol for the 2018 legislative session, AARP Florida urged lawmakers to embrace innovative solutions to the problem of providing emergency backup power for elder-care facilities in the aftermath of a major disaster.

AARP Florida Advocacy Manager Jack McRay sent a letter to all 160 state lawmakers urging them to require that all Florida nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have emergency backup power generators and fuel sufficient to provide emergency cooling to their facilities for 96 hours after a disaster knocked out power.

In September 2017, 14 frail residents of a Broward County nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the home. Sweltering heat built up in the facility after air conditioning was lost. In all, there were evacuations of at least some residents from 79 nursing homes and more than 400 assisted-living facilities statewide in the aftermath of the storm.

In an AARP Florida Facebook Live event Jan. 8, Associate State Director for Advocacy Dorene Barker provided an update on where the emergency-generator issue stands in the 2018 Legislature as the session kicks off.

Here are questions asked during the Facebook Live event and Barker’s responses:

Where does the nursing home backup power legislation stand as the 2018 legislative session begins?
More than a dozen bills have been filed to address this issue. The provisions of the legislation vary widely. For a detailed analysis of the bills, please go to www.flsen.gov or www.MyFloridaHouse.gov and search bills in the 2018 Legislature on nursing homes.

What is AARP asking for?
AARP Florida is asking that:

  • All Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities have emergency backup power and fuel in place when the 2018 hurricane season begins June 1, 2018.  It would be unconscionable to put Florida elders at risk in the 2018 hurricane season after our experiences in 2017.
  • The Legislature should establish a program to offer bridge funding to help elder-care facilities buy and install generators and fuel supplies.
  • The state should recruit businesses and individuals to provide sponsorships to help cover the cost of generator and fuel supply installation.  The state could offer tax incentives to encourage businesses to participate.
  • Pre-empt local ordinances to allow for timely, but safe installation of generator capacity before the 2018 hurricane season begins June 1.
  • Require power companies to set the same priority for reconnecting power to nursing homes and assisted living facilities as they currently do for hospitals.

Why is heat buildup such a serious situation for frail older people? 

  • No.  Frail elders don’t have the capability of withstanding extended periods of high heat, much like infants and very young children Their bodies do not regulate internal temperatures as well as younger adults. In the Broward nursing home disaster, some of the frail elders who died had internal temperatures as high as 109 degrees F.
  • High heat levels also are dangerous for young children, people whose immune systems have been compromised by disease, and people with disabilities, many of whom reside in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
  • If Florida does not address this issue, the next hurricane (and there will certainly be more) could end up being even deadlier for some of our most vulnerable older Floridians.

Does AARP believe elder safety in disaster is limited to the deaths in one nursing home in Broward County?

  • Absolutely not,  This is a far broader issue.  79 nursing homes and more than 400 assisted living facilities had at least some residents evacuated after Hurricane Irma.
  • The Agency for Health Care Administration described the risk as “pervasive” in Florida elder-care institutions.
  • This is an issue that affects scores of thousands, and indeed hundreds of thousands, of people.

Some have suggested the generator requirement should only apply to large institutions.  Where does AARP stand?

  • AARP believes the backup power requirement should apply to all facilities regardless of size. Florida law bans adults from leaving a child in a hot vehicle. The law applies the same standard to any size vehicle, whether it is a bus or a sedan.   The size of the institution doesn’t matter as much as the frailness of the residents.
  • The life of someone in a smaller institution is worth as much as anyone else’s life.

Is this just too big a job for elder-care institutions to tackle in the five months remaining before June 1? 
Not at all.  It would be unconscionable to put frail, vulnerable elders at risk in the 2018 hurricane season.  We have seen what can happen.  We must act to keep these vulnerable fellow Floridians safe.

Why not just evacuate frail residents from nursing homes that lose power?
For the frailest of the frail, evacuation is also a risk.  Elder-care facility managers realize the risks of evacuation, and they plan to avoid this risk if they can.  This is another reason why making onsite emergency cooling power available is so important.

How can our viewers learn more, and get involved: