As the state still reels from the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Florida’s two senators took steps to establish a national oversight committee for nursing home disaster preparedness.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this week filed legislation that would create a National Advisory Committee on Seniors and Disasters, a 15-member board that would help states implement emergency preparedness plans for skilled nursing facilities and other senior-care providers.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican and Florida’s other senator, also sponsored the bill, along with fellow Senate Special Committee on Aging members Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.
The committee held a hearing on disaster preparedness Wednesday in response to the tragedy in Hollywood, Fla., where a lack of power in the wake of Hurricane Irma led to the deaths of 10 residents. The senators also cited the image of assisted living residents in Dickinson, Texas awaiting rescue from Hurricane Harvey in a flooded room.
The advisory board would consist of officials from a variety of federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Health, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) — the latter of which is set to roll out new emergency preparedness rules for skilled nursing facilities and other providers in November.
Members would report to the secretary of Health and Human Services, who would also be required to consult with his or her counterparts at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“What happened in Hollywood is inexcusable, and this bill will require the head of HHS to appoint a panel of experts to provide our state and local leaders with the guidance they need to make sure such a tragedy never happens again,” Nelson said in a Facebook post announcing the legislation.
Hollywood fallout continues
Investigators continue to turn up disturbing information about the scene inside the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Two more residents have since died after the evacuation, bringing the total toll to 10, and the New York Times reported that staffers had reported normal vital signs for a patient who had already died. Some residents had recorded temperatures as high as 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Times, and employees failed to seek emergency medical attention for even the most distressed patients.
In a bluntly worded statement, the secretary of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration highlighted one of the potential shortcomings of even the most detailed disaster plans.
“It is unfathomable that a medical professional would not know to call 911 immediately in an emergency situation,” secretary Justin Senior said. “No amount of emergency preparedness could have prevented the gross medical and criminal recklessness that occurred at this facility.”
An attorney for the embattled SNF, meanwhile, rejected the state’s characterization in a statement to the Times, saying that the staff merely reacted to the dire conditions presented to them and that criticism of their actions represents “hindsight.”
Written by Alex Spanko