Gov. Scott's rule challenges Jacksonville-area adult-care facilities

Some tell I-TEAM that 60-day deadline, high costs make rule unrealistic

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Nursing homes and assisted living facilities across Northeast Florida tell the I-TEAM that they are scrambling to meet an emergency action ordered by Gov. Rick Scott after nine elderly patients died in Hollywood, Florida, nursing home. Hurricane Irma knocked out power and air conditioning at the facility, and management did not evacuate the patients.

After the deaths, Scott mandated that all 683 nursing homes and all 3,110 assisted living facilities statewide provide a generator strong enough to power an air conditioning unit and four days worth of fuel. The order requires compliance within 60 days of the order, dated last Saturday. Failure to meet the deadline could cost each facility a $1,000-per-day fine, or loss of a state license.

The I-TEAM called all 70 licensed nursing homes in greater Jacksonville Tuesday and could confirm that only 25 currently have generators, and some of those are not powerful enough to run air conditioning. Some of the homes would not comment or did not return the phone call by the end of the day.

Due to the cost -- which could run more than $500,000 per facility -- and the time crunch, many nursing home owners or managers said they'd like to comply with the rule, but it may be impossible.

The winds of Hurricane Irma knocked out power to more than 6 million homes and businesses in northeast Florida -- more than a half-million in Northeast Florida -- and nursing homes and care facilities were not immune.  More than 200 adult care facilities and thousands of patients were evacuated to shelters or other health care facilities in the days after the storm.

Old Moultrie Nursing Home in St. Augustine lost power for days. Its patients were not evacuated.

A brave few nursing home operators anonymously shared their concerns. One said an air-conditioning contractor he talked to said it would take four to five months to have a generator of that size installed, and it could cost over $100,000.

Licensed assisted living facilities & nursing homes

Data from Florida Agency for Health Care
Administration as of 9/19/2017

Other issues include older buildings may require re-wiring and fuel storage would be a hurdle. To have enough gas, some buildings would require a storage shed built, and that will require permitting from local governments.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, agreed the deadline may be unrealistic.

"I'm concerned that meeting the requirement of the rule within 60 days may put some of our facilities in such a bind that they can't meet that," Gibson said.

Gibson, who was at the disaster recovery event Tuesday at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, said improving evacuation plans may be a better fix.

"Imagine a very large facility. Where are they going to store the gas? How many generators do they have to buy? And are they still in a financial position to take care of the people in those facilities right now?" Gibson asked.

The Florida Healthcare Association is hosting a summit on the rule Friday in Tallahassee. Owners and operators of adult-care facilities will meet with state compliance experts and contractors.

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