LeadingAge Florida struck back against the state’s quick-turnaround plan to require backup generators in nursing homes, saying the timeline is simply impossible to meet.
The Tallahassee, Fla.-based group, which represents more than 100 non-profit skilled nursing facility and assisted living facilities throughout the Sunshine State, is seeking more time for its members to comply with the new rules, issued by Gov. Rick Scott in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Scott’s order, issued on September 16, gave SNFs and assisted living facilities 60 days to install generators and stock enough fuel to last 96 hours following a power outage. The emergency action also requires SNFs to submit their new generators to inspections by fire marshals, and provide local officials with detailed disaster plans.
“During emergencies, health care facilities must be fully prepared to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of those in their care, and there is absolutely no excuse not to protect life,” Scott, a Republican, said in a statement announcing the rule updates.
But developing and implementing such a complex plan will likely take operators in the state far more than two months, LeadingAge Florida president and CEO Steve Bahmer told Skilled Nursing News.
“Literally almost without exception, they are finding it extremely difficult to comply with the rule,” Bahmer said.
One of the group’s members began the process of installing a power backup system at the beginning of the summer, several months before Hurricane Irma hit, but still won’t be done until March, Bahmer said. And that number isn’t an outlier: On average, he estimated that SNFs could take anywhere from three and a half to 18 months to complete the work necessary to meet compliance standards.
In addition, as Florida begins to rebuild after Irma, demand for contractors, electricians, and other tradespeople has increased significantly, Bahmer said, making it hard for SNFs to find qualified manpower in a short period of time.
Issue with timeline, not regulations
Bahmer stressed that the timeline, and not the spirit of the rule, is what drove LeadingAge to file its complaint with Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration and Department of Elder Affairs — and that its members are fully willing to shoulder the cost of the upgrades, which could range from $125,000 to more than $800,000.
“We know it’s going to be expensive. But our members have never used cost as a reason not to do this, or as a barrier to getting it done,” Bahmer said. “They are committed to signing the checks to get this done and to meet the spirit of what the Governor is after.”
The complaint points out several issues with Scott’s action, including the short timeline and the fact that the implementation deadline of December 1 falls just outside of the Atlantic hurricane season, which ends November 30 — hypothetically giving operators until the following June 1 until another Irma-like storm could threaten the state.
“The emergency rules cannot be intended to address an emergency created by the current hurricane season in Florida, as the rules are not enforceable until after the hurricane season has ended, and the next season will not begin for more than six months,” the petition reads.
LeadingAge also criticized the harsh penalties that operators that didn’t meet the deadline could face, including fines of $1,000 per day and the potential loss of their licenses. By giving providers more time, the group argues, the state can achieve the goal of protecting seniors without forcing SNFs out of business — which, LeadingAge notes, would also force residents out of their homes and potentially interrupt care.
“We know the legislature is going to deal with this backup power [issue], and we endorse that,” Bahmer said. “We’re working with legislators now on that effort. Our immediate goal is to achieve a more realistic timeline for complying with what we think… is the right thing to do.”
Written by Alex Spanko