ORLANDO, Fla. - A total of 254 assisted living facilities statewide have been cited and fined by state surveyors with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration for failing to have an emergency power plan and equipment in place.
More than 50 of those facilities are located in Central Florida counties.
These failures come more than a year after a new state law went into effect to try to protect vulnerable and elderly residents during a major hurricane.
According to Patrick Manderfield, with the AHCA, no nursing homes have been fined.
Then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the legislation into law in March of 2018, in response to 12 nursing home deaths that occurred in South Florida during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which knocked power out for days statewide.
The new emergency power plan law requires nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have an approved emergency power plan in place. That plan should include a back-up generator, fuel and other power equipment on property to keep residents cool and comfortable in a common area for up to four days in larger facilities and two days in facilities with less than 16 beds.
"They can put what they want on the list, but you know, I'm ready," said Ionie Fisher, an administrator at Ionie's Assisted Living Facility in Orlando, a licensed seven-bed facility.
Fisher's facility was one of 12 Orange County assisted living centers cited and fined by state inspectors for failing to have equipment in place by their deadline last year.
Fisher received the $500 fine last July, just a month after the new power rules went into place.
"It was overwhelming," Fisher said. "It was too much all at the same time because you had to have the generator, you had to have the transfer switch, you have to have the gas. So it was overwhelming because for a small facility, the funds are not available."
Also not available was the generator, since there was a run on equipment and labor.
According to state records with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, Fisher's fine was eventually reduced to $250. Within weeks, Fisher bought the equipment she needed and updated her emergency plan.
"My plan wasn't good at all," Fisher admitted. "It had to be rewritten."
She said that's because a lot has changed since she started her facility back in 1998.
"Yes, they are much different," Fisher said. "The requirement now is way out of control with all that is going on."
Fisher said she has no problem following the new regulations. She even spent more than $6,000 to get her facility in compliance with the new emergency power plan law.
"We have our gas, we have our generator. Our transfer switch is in, my emergency plan is in place and passed approval, so I am ready," Fisher said.
That is comforting news for Joe Adams, who has lived at Ionie's Assisted Living Center for the past 10 years. Adams relies on oxygen, so power is a must.
"I have an air concentrator here," Adams said. "But I also have a backup here, just in case of an emergency."
Adams said he was surprised to hear lonie's Assisted Living Facility was given a citation.
"But it is my understanding that everything was here, but it just wasn't hooked up yet at the time that the officials showed up," Adams said.
Adams said he is glad to know state inspectors are making sure facilities are following the new law and his facility is now in the clear.
"I know for a fact we are ready," Adams said. "So that makes me feel wonderful."
Fisher said the costs associated with the new law forced some smaller facilities to shut down completely, but she said that was never an option for her.
"No, no. Because this is my calling," Fisher said. "And whatever it takes, I would do it. I have clients here over 10 years, so we've become family."
Fisher said she just wants everyone to be held to the same standard.
News 6 discovered there are several assisted living centers and nursing homes around the state that still don't have the necessary equipment in place because of the wait times for county and city permits, equipment backlogs and installers not being available because they are stacked up with other projects.
But because many of them have filed for extensions, which are allowed under the new law, they have not received any citations.
Manderfield said there are currently 245 nursing homes and 2,328 assisted living facilities that have reported fully implemented generators.
Manderfield confirms plan implementation and verification at facilities is ongoing, and AHCA will continue to verify compliance during onsite visits. As facilities implement, their information is displayed on FloridaHealthFinder.gov.
Manderfield said according to Florida law, there is not a limit regarding variance requests or duration and AHCA is evaluating extension requests on a case-by-case basis to ensure appropriate timelines for compliance and safety measures are in place.
Currently, AHCA has 284 surveyors responsible for checking more than 3,700 nursing homes and assisted living centers across the state.
That sounds daunting, but when you break it down, you discover each surveyor is really only responsible for checking on a total of 13 facilities.
Manderfield said the agency will continue to evaluate appropriate enforcement remedies, including fines and other actions for any facility that fails to come into compliance.
Any facility with an approved extension (variance) is required to have an adequate plan to protect patients during a power outage, such as having a temporary generator on site, a plan to obtain a generator within 24 hours of a power outage or a full evacuation plan, according to Manderfield.
Key reasons for delays in implementation/the need for a variance include the following:
- Availability of proper equipment. Many of these facilities are very large and require custom generators to provide proper cooling.
- Installation scheduling. Many facilities struggle with an inability to get installation scheduled for custom generators and appropriate electrical wiring and connection.
- Mechanical engineering plan reviews and approvals. Facilities must work with engineers, and in some cases architects, to develop implementation plans, which require review and approval by local or state officials.
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