Why Proposed Federal Disaster Regulations Could be Good for Skilled Nursing

Earlier this week, a U.S. representative announced a plan that would bring a Florida-specific emergency preparedness rule to all 50 states. And while providers in the state had expressed concerns over the regulations, national organizations say the rule could prove to be a boon for operators and residents alike.

Under Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s proposed legislation, nursing homes across the country would be required to install backup generators and stock enough fuel to keep temperatures comfortable for 96 hours following a power outage.

If that regulation sounds familiar, it’s essentially the same plan that Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Provider groups in the state largely objected to that emergency order, saying that while the governor was correct in wanting to protect seniors, operators simply couldn’t meet the 60-day deadline.

But the Wasserman Schultz initiative also calls for nursing homes to be bumped to the front of the line for power restoration, putting skilled nursing facilities on the same level of priority as acute-care hospitals nationwide.

That’s a serious positive for the SNF industry, according to Janine Finck-Boyle, director of health regulations and policy at LeadingAge.

“Nursing homes are not the priority, and they need to be made the priority,” Finck-Boyle told Skilled Nursing News. “I think that is an important part of opening up the conversation on emergency and disaster planning.”

Finck-Boyle, whose organization oversees non-profit long-term care providers, said nursing homes usually aren’t given the same priority by local utility companies as hospitals. And while most of LeadingAge’s members already have generators in place, they can only go so far to help vulnerable residents during storms and other disasters.

“You’ve used up the fuel that you have. Can you get more?” she said. “And that is exactly where the priority or tier system has to come into play.”

Even with a fully-fueled generator, Finck-Boyle said, SNF administrators need to make tough decisions about how to use that power: The cooling system is a must, but other medical devices could put a strain on the generator and create a low-lighting situation, for example.

State solutions

The American Health Care Association has largely advocated for state-level emergency reforms, according to senior vice president for government relations Clif Porter. States know their specific disaster-management needs best, Porter told SNN during AHCA’s annual convention in Las Vegas earlier in October.

“We’re a firm believer that the states have a better understanding of what the challenges are at a local level, and obviously can develop a strong response,” Porter said.

But Porter also expressed support for the power-priority issue.

“Are we on the top tier? I think it’s clear that we ought to be,” Porter said. “I think it’s clear that our patients should definitely be in a position, from a perspective of vulnerability, to have top-tier recognition from the power companies.”

Upcoming regulations from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), set to take effect Nov. 16, also take into account regional differences in emergency needs: SNFs must develop all-hazard plans based on common local disasters, such as snowstorms in the Northeast and tornadoes in the Midwest.

Written by Alex Spanko

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Alex Spanko
Assistant Editor at Aging Media Network
Alex covers the skilled nursing and reverse mortgage industries for Aging Media. Outside of work, he reads nonfiction, yells at Mets games from his couch, and enjoys pretty much any type of whiskey or scotch — often all at once.

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