One of the most heartbreaking stories to come out of the devastation of Hurricane Irma might have a life-saving ending. In the months after the storm, 14 residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died due to heat-related illnesses and complications. The nursing home, located 20 miles north of Miami, had lost power to its air conditioning system on September 10, a scenario Governor Rick Scott hopes to prevent from ever happening again. However, associations representing care facilities are finding the new regulation and the potential requirement to carry liability insurance too far-reaching, expensive, and unrealistic.
The governor’s emergency rule issued in October stated that all nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida are now required to install generators that can provide power in the event of an electricity outage. The care homes must also allot for 96 hours of fuel to run the generators. The governor’s orders required compliance within 60 days.
Associations representing these kinds of facilities immediately opposed the ruling with two legal filings, arguing that the regulation was not in response to an “immediate danger.” They argued that it could take six months to two years to install a proper generator system. Despite their appeals, the First District Court of Appeal allowed the rule to stand.
Only a few weeks later, an administrative judge sided with the nursing home associations, agreeing that the new rule required too much of the facilities with too short of a deadline. The judge also felt the end of hurricane season being weeks away should allow the facilities more time to abide by the new regulation. With Governor Rick appealing this decision, the rule remains in effect as the battle continues in court.
Florida legislators are attempting to cement this regulation and are taking the cause even further by requiring all nursing homes and assisted living centers to obtain liability insurance. Their proposed legislation would also allow more state access for investigations and even prioritizes care facilities during power restoration efforts. If passed, this law would require generators in place by July 2018, the start of the next hurricane season, with fines of $1,000 per day for non-compliance.
Meanwhile, the fallout for the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills is not slowing any time soon. Families of affected residents have sued the nursing home for negligence, claiming the facility failed to call 9-1-1 or notify emergency officials of the need for help. State and federal agencies, as well as the local police, are investigating criminal charges. The state of Florida has revoked the center’s license, and the feds have banned it from receiving Medicare funding. The center is now closed indefinitely after laying off 245 employees.