ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities without emergency power plans and equipment are being put on notice by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. The agency will begin rejecting licenses to facilities that have not met the legally required safeguards.
“I have communicated strongly with the nursing homes, with the assisting living facilities, that I will be reluctant to grant variances beyond the end of this year,” AHCA Sec. Mary Mayhew said. “We absolutely will take action against their license if we can demonstrate that they have failed to make good faith efforts to come into compliance with this law.”
By law, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are required to have backup generators and enough fuel to keep a common area cool for 4 days.
However, according to the AHCA’s Emergency Power Plan compliance database, many facilities still don’t meet the requirements and many have been granted more than one variance or extension to accommodate any delays due to equipment shortages, permitting delays, or other factors.
The law was passed after 14 people died at a rehabilitation facility in Broward County during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. This after they were stuck in sweltering rooms for days with no access to power.
A review of the state law and amendments show facilities across Florida have had two years to get their emergency power plans and equipment approved and installed. But Mayhew said the time for extensions and delays has run out.
"We need our nursing homes and assisted living facilities to be ready, when we are dealing with the next hurricane," Mayhew said.
Mayhew says while Hurricane Dorian did not hit Florida, it did cause her agency to create a laser beam focus on which facilities were in compliance with the new generator requirements, and which ones were not.
"For those who have not made good faith efforts to come into compliance, we have already issued fines, and we will continue to either take further fine actions, or we will be addressing it through their licenses," said Mayhew.
AHCA confirms to date, it has already denied licenses to 3 assisted living facilities and also fined and penalized 280 more for failing to comply with the emergency power rules. One of the ones that closed was located in Central Florida.
State records show Dr. Phillips Residential Living on Vineland Road in Orlando was denied their renewal in July - and had to close their doors permanently. Multiple calls to the facility's owner were not returned.
"Well its about time," said Bob Misko, an emergency management consultant who owns ES3.
Misko says he has helped more than 140 facilities across Florida get their emergency power plans and equipment in place.
He says many places ignored or put off the rules for far too long.
"Somebody had to throw a stop up and say 'Hey! no more!'" Misko said.
For assisted living facility administrators like Jen Brown, who runs 3 facilities in Winter Park, the news is shocking.
“I think it’s very likely that there could be several facilities that could close,” Brown said. “I think that that’s scary! I would hope that AHCA would send out notices because if a facility is finding this out - there’s a lot to consider.”
Brown says that's because pulling a license would mean residents would have to find a new place to live.
"The resident ultimately suffers because they have to be relocated," Brown said. "They're displaced from their home and what they are used to."
Brown says she did have to get an extension for her facilities in order to get all their equipment in place. But she says they are all finally in compliance.
She says she just hopes the state will provide enough notice to facilities in jeopardy of losing their license, so affected families have enough time to find an alternative place for their loved ones to live.
“Hopefully it won’t be necessary,” Brown said. “Hopefully everyone will get what they need on hand.”
A Spokesperson for AHCA says the notice falls on the facility operators.
“The Agency’s goal is compliance, and we are committed to working with facilities to ensure they meet all requirements of the rule,” said Patrick Manderfield, AHCA’s Deputy Communications Director. “Any determinations regarding the removal of licenses will be made once all other remedies or penalties have been exhausted. If a facility closes, the operator is required by law to provide notice to enable alternative placements options for residents. The Agency’s Medicaid managed care plans can assist clients with placement options when needed.”
Misko says the new state directive is a wakeup call for facilities to get compliant -- or else.
“We dodged a bullet this year,” Misko said. " Next year, maybe not so lucky."
Misko says if you have a loved one in a Florida nursing home or ALF, go ahead and ask to see their emergency power plans and to demand to see their equipment.
He says any good facility will have no problem showing you.