Florida Tragedy Ratchets Up Pressure on SNF Emergency Compliance

Skilled nursing operators were already focused on emergency preparations before the recent hurricanes, but following the deaths of eight SNF residents in the wake of Hurricane Irma, providers can expect harsh consequences if their plans don’t meet requirements.

Local authorities are still sorting out what exactly went wrong at the 152-bed Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Fla., where a loss of power and the apparent lack of a functional backup generator created fatal heat.

In the meantime, skilled nursing operators can still take away several key lessons from both hurricanes Harvey and Irma — especially as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) prepares to begin enforcing new emergency preparedness guidelines in November.


“I think all nursing homes should be expecting that their next surveys are going to be focusing on their emergency preparedness,” says Lourdes Martinez, a partner and director at Garfunkel Wild, P.C., in Great Neck, N.Y.

“That’s usually what you see in the industry,” says Martinez, who works in the law firm’s health care practice group. “When something happens in one place, it spreads elsewhere.”

While hurricanes have made headlines over the last few weeks, Garfunkel Wild partner Michael Stone tells Skilled Nursing News that regulators won’t care about the type of potential disaster — only that nursing homes are prepared.


“In Illinois, you’re not going to see a hurricane. You might see a blizzard. You might still see flooding. So they’re going to have to be focused on the worst-case scenario,” Stone says, emphasizing the importance of having an “all-hazards approach” to emergency management. “They’re not going to be off the hook by virtue of geography.”

Lawsuits and lower occupancy

The “all-hazards” requirement is just one of the many new rules coming from CMS on November 16: In addition to having a plan that can adapt to multiple potential emergencies, SNFs must work on a communication strategy that involves other providers in the area, and conduct regular training and drills.

The cost to implement these changes could run from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, as one expert told Skilled Nursing News last week, but the financial cost of emergency preparedness — or lack thereof — goes beyond the initial setup of disaster protocols. Hollywood Hills’ operators will likely face lawsuits associated with all of the residents who died or sustained injuries after Hurricane Irma, as well as government fines and penalties depending on the eventual findings of fault, Martinez says.

The deaths in Florida will also loom large in the minds of Americans considering nursing home care for themselves or relatives for years to come.

“I think family members are going to start paying more attention to previous surveys,” Martinez says, noting that the Hollywood Hills facility had a reported history of generator issues.

And if interested parties don’t like what they see, either in past reports or current plans to cope with disasters, the horror in Florida will be enough to convince them to take their loved ones elsewhere.

“I don’t think it’s just going to be the cost of getting prepared,” Martinez says. “It’s going to be the cost of lost admissions if you don’t have this.”

Written by Alex Spanko

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