New generators headed to veterans' nursing homes

By Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs is buying new generators for three of its long-term care facilities after legislative leaders approved $3 million for the purchase.

In an Oct. 5 legislative budget request, the department said the purchase was necessary so the state could “meet the new State of Florida emergency preparedness standards” as well as continue a longstanding policy to shelter residents in place.

Steve Murray, spokesman for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, told The News Service of Florida that all state veterans' nursing homes are in compliance with a pair of emergency rules issued by Gov. Rick Scott's administration that require nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to have generators and enough fuel to power the generators for four days. The requirements are designed to ensure that buildings are kept cool during power outages.

The department requested funding for generators and larger fuel tanks, Murray said, so veterans' homes could exceed the requirements by fully powering the facilities. 

“This policy is necessitated because of the extreme logistical issues associated with attempting to relocate 120 highly dependent residents, half of whom suffer from Alzheimer's and dementia, and the professional health care staff required to provide their life-sustaining care,” the budget amendment said.

The state has seven veterans' nursing homes, and construction of an eighth is slated to begin in March.

Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida in September and was responsible for at least 84 deaths. The issue of generators at long-term care facilities has been high profile after eight residents of a private Broward County nursing home died Sept. 13, three days after Irma knocked out its air-conditioning system.

Five veterans' homes lost main power in the immediate aftermath of the storm, Murray said. One home, the 120-bed Baldomero Lopez State Veterans' Nursing Home in Land O' Lakes, was on generator power for five days before electricity was restored.

The nursing home provided shelter to more than 300 people and a variety of pets during and immediately after the storm, he said. The generator kept the air conditioning running in the residents' rooms and medical areas, but by the fourth day the facility requested --- and received --- portable generators that enabled it to fully power the building.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs submitted the request to legislative leaders about three weeks after Scott's administration issued emergency rules requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators and fuel to run air-conditioning systems. The amendment was approved the following day.

Budget documents show that the Department of Veterans Affairs will purchase new 750-kilowatt generators or higher for nursing homes in Port Charlotte, Pembroke Pines and Daytona Beach. Smaller generators at those buildings will be shipped to veterans' nursing homes in Panama City and Land O' Lakes and an assisted-living facility in Lake City, all of which will have two smaller generators on site providing the necessary backup power.

No changes are planned for the St. Augustine facility because, Murray said, its generator is large enough to meet the new emergency mandates and to shelter residents in place.

“The bottom line when completed is that all seven veterans' homes, whether they have one large generator or two smaller generators (combined), can be powered to 100 percent of normal day-to-day operations,” Murray said.

The state is buying the generators from Ring Power, and “installation will commence upon receipt of generators,” Murray said. He did not know when the generators would be delivered or installed.

News Service of Florida