ORLANDO, Fla. – Hurricane Irma exposed just how important emergency power plans are to nursing homes and assisted living centers across the state. It even led to a new state law that mandated changes to keep residents safe, this after more than a dozen nursing home residents died in south Florida from oppressive heat and lack of power.
The new law requires nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have an approved emergency power plan in place and to have a sufficient alternate power source, such as a generator.
They also need to be able to ensure air temperatures at or below 81 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 96 hours in the event of a massive power outage and make sure they have access to an alternate fuel source to maintain it.
According to Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, the final rules allow extensions until Jan. 1, 2019, as long as patient protections are in place to ensure safe temperatures at all times.
But a News 6 investigation has uncovered hundreds of nursing homes and assisted living facilities that still don't have an approved power plan in place or the necessary equipment.
Some administrators say they had no choice but to file an extension. They say they are caught in a stalemate as they wait for equipment to come in, permits to get approved and electricians to fit them in.
“The challenge is to get the permit and the parts,” said Yolette Precil, the administrator at Golden Cove Assisted Living Center in Orlando.
She has five residents currently under her care in her six-bed home facility.
“If there is one more hurricane, we will not be able to comply because all those generators will be going to where the needs are,” Precil said. “We do not have all the parts in Central Florida. Everything was diverted to Puerto Rico and Texas.”
Precil said she and other ALF administrators got gas generators to fill in the gaps, but then were told fire code would prevent them from having four days worth of gasoline on hand.
“I do have some gas available, but it's not the 72 hours.” Precil said. “It's too much, too much gasoline to keep on the site.”
Precil said she has been waiting three months to get an electrician out to her facility to install a propane tank for her new generator, and even longer for some of the other parts to come in all to be compliant with the county and the state.
“They have threatened us that if we don't get this done at a certain time they are going to close us down, they are going to fine us,” Precil said. “How are they going to fine us if we are trying?”
Local electricians can attest to the long wait and say many counties waited for clarification on the new state law before putting in their own regulations.
“I think they got a late start,” electrician Bob Misko said.
Misko, the owner of Environmental Services, Staffing and Solutions, has helped more than 80 assisted living facilities try to get up to code with the new state regulations.
“I know in one county, permits are taking almost 35 days to be approved,” Misko said. “And you just got to sit and wait.”
So what if a hurricane does hit Central Florida?
Some places are implementing alternative ways to keep residents safe in case of a power outage by using things like air coolers.
But while Golden Cove waits for a propane tank and transfer switch to be installed, its residents say they feel safe and confident that they will be able to weather the next big storm.
“Yes I do,” said longtime Golden Cove resident Bob Ellis.
His caretaker just hopes they will have a permanent solution in place soon.
“I believe it has to be done for the safety of the residents that live in the facilities,” caretaker Brenda Denney said. “Hopefully they can all do it because it is the law now.”
Denney said she is pleased with the plan Precil currently has in place, and her plans to improve it.
“I believe she is right on top of it,” Denney said. “They have their generators in place here and (during Hurricane Irma) we had lights, she was able to cook and he had air conditioning in her room.”
Precil said she does have a mutual aid agreement with another facility just in case a hurricane hits and knocks out power to her facility. But she says the new rules have limited that "plan B" for some places.
Precil said while she is thankful the state is doing something to keep the elderly and infirm safe, she says the regulations are complicated, costly and time-consuming. She said that has caused many other small facilities to close their doors.
“If you can't keep them safe, you don't need to be in this business,” Precil said.
According to Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, 100 percent of nursing homes in the state have a plan implemented or at least have applied for an extension.
That is not the case when it comes to assisted living facilities.
But when it comes to how many facilities have an approved power plan and equipment in place, that's where some Central Florida counties are getting a failing grade.
According to the AHCA database:
Volusia County 83 of the 128 facilities have an approved plan in place - 64.84 percent D
Flagler County has 16 of its 24 facilities with approved power plans - 66.67 percent D
Lake County has 40 of its 60 facilities with an approved plan - 66.67 percent D
Sumter County has 12 of its 15 providers with an emergency power plan approval - 80 percent B-
Orange County has 145 facilities, but only 61 with an emergency power plan approved - 42.07 percent F
According to Orange County's records, 131 facilities as of April 2018 fall within the ALF or nursing home category and are required to submit emergency power plans. Out of those, 75 of their facilities have approved plans, 32 are awaiting submission of additional information,12 are being re-reviewed and 12 have not submitted plans.
Osceola County has 44 facilities, 19 have approved plans - 43.18 percent F
Brevard County 56 of the County's 154 facilities have an approved plan - 36.36 percent F
Polk County has 54 of its 64 facilities with an approved plan 84.38 percent B
Seminole County has 69 out of its 71 providers with approved plans 97.18 percent A
Marion County has 36 out of 43 facilities with approved plans 83.72 percent B
To see a list of the Emergency Power Plan Summary report for nursing home and assisted living facilities across the state, click here.