Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Monday became the latest lawmaker to tackle emergency preparedness in skilled nursing facilities, announcing plans to introduce federal generator legislation.
Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat who represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional district, rolled out the plan in a news conference that also featured family members of residents from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the Sun Sentinel reported; fourteen residents of that SNF in Hollywood, Fla. died as the result of a hurricane-related power outage.
The proposed legislation would essentially take a state-level emergency order nationwide, requiring nursing facilities to have backup generators with enough fuel to provide comfortable temperatures for up to 96 hours after an outage. The law would also bump SNFs to the top of the priority list for power companies to restore service, placing them on the same tier as hospitals.
“This horrific incident made it quite clear that we need to strengthen our senior safety net, as well as enforce and bolster existing nursing home regulations,” Wasserman Schultz said during the press conference, according to a video posted by the Sun-Sentinel.
The representative plans to formally file the legislation sometime this week.
The American Health Care Association (AHCA), a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that represents nursing homes and assisted living facilities, expressed support for the initiative as a starting point for a larger debate on the issue.
“We appreciate Rep. Wasserman-Schultz beginning the conversation on emergency preparedness,” AHCA senior vice president for government relations Clif Porter told SNN in an e-mail. “Nursing centers are eager to work with lawmakers and regulators to learn from the successes and failures from the response of the recent hurricanes, and develop rational responses that make sense and make our residents safer.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, issued an emergency order requiring nursing homes to meet the 96-hour generator standard by December 1, a move that was met with resistance from industry groups. LeadingAge Florida, for instance, argued that the September 16 order simply didn’t give SNFs enough time to safely meet the new requirements.
“Literally almost without exception, they are finding it extremely difficult to comply with the rule,” LeadingAge Florida president and CEO Steve Bahmer told SNN last month.
Skilled nursing operators in the state say the generator design and installation process could take up to 18 months in certain cases, and set SNFs back $125,000 to $800,000.
The Wasserman Schultz legislation would create a program under which SNFs with fewer than 50 beds — as well as those where private rooms go for less than $6,000 per month — could receive special loan assistance to help meet the requirements, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Just last week, a state court threw out an industry challenge to the rule, denying an emergency review of the regulations. Should the regulation roll out as planned, SNFs can face fines of up to $1,000 per day for non-compliance — or lose their licenses entirely.
Written by Alex Spanko