Agency for Health Care Administration spokeswoman Mallory McManus said that before agreeing to temporarily waive the requirement, the state reviewed the nursing homes to ensure that they had “made every effort to attain compliance.”
“We will stop at nothing to ensure these facilities are appropriately protecting Florida patients,” McManus said in a statement to The News Service of Florida.
The backup power requirement came after residents of a Broward County nursing home died following Hurricane Irma in 2017. The hurricane knocked out the facility’s air-conditioning system, creating sweltering conditions.
Florida has 686 licensed nursing homes, and a News Service review of state records shows that 406 nursing homes have requested variances to the backup power requirements since September because they were unable to comply with the law.
The state during the past week has approved about 300 of the requests. To date, no request for a variance has been denied, McManus said.
By contrast, according to the website, 198 nursing homes have fully implemented their emergency plans.
Florida has 3,083 licensed assisted-living facilities, which also are required to meet backup-power requirements. Department of Elder Affairs spokeswoman Amy Chambers said the agency has received requests for variances from 270 providers. Five have been approved, Chambers said, and two have been denied.
Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration already has indicated that it may revisit the backup power mandate, which Gov. Rick Scott made a top priority in his final legislative session.
Lt. Gov.-elect Jeanette Nuñez said this month that the mandate will likely be an “ongoing discussion,” given the number of long-term care providers that are unable to meet the timelines.
Scott, who came into office railing against costly government regulations, lobbied the Legislature during the 2018 session to ratify backup-power rules initially ordered following the deaths of as many as 12 residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after Hurricane Irma.
Despite the steep costs —- $121.3 million over the first five years for nursing homes and $243 million for assisted living facilities —- the Legislature put the rules into law.
The regulations have been phased in over time, first requiring facilities to submit to local officials comprehensive emergency-management plans that detail how facilities would obtain generators and 96 hours of fuel to keep residents cool in the aftermath of a storm.
Providers were required to submit the plans and implement them by June 1, the start of hurricane season. The rules allowed the Agency for Health Care Administration to grant informal extensions giving providers additional time to comply with the requirements while remaining in good standing with the state.
The temporary extensions expire Jan. 1, which triggered the onslaught of waiver requests.
Lobbyists for nursing homes and assisted living facilities worried that the timeline in the regulations would be difficult for facilities to meet, but the state maintained the Jan. 1 deadline for compliance.
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About 300 nursing homes across the state have been given another six months to meet a state mandate that they have generators and fuel that can help keep buildings cool.