Nursing Homes Must Reevaluate their Emergency Preparedness Plans – Adding Planned Power Outages to the List

Planned power outages in response to wildfire threats are leaving some nursing homes in the dark – one facility in Boulder, Colorado was left without power for 28 hours.

Generators kept running the facility’s oxygen machines, most refrigerators and freezers, hallway lights and Wi-Fi for phones and computers, according to a report originally from KFF. Frasier Meadows Health Care was originally told its power wouldn’t be affected, but then had just 75 minutes before Xcel Energy shut off its power in April.

Staff had their work cut out for them, preparing the 20-acre campus with nearly 500 residents for the power outage. The heating system and come lights stayed off as the overnight temperature in Boulder dropped into the 30s. Frasier’s three buildings each have their own generators, but connecting to emergency air conditioning or heat would require too much energy, KFF reported.


Frasier plans to invest in headlamps for caregivers, but its independent living residents were encouraged to purchase their own backup power for mobile phones and other electronics. The outage was stressful and expensive, Tomas Mendez told KFF. Mendez serves as vice president of operations at Frasier.

“We’re lucky we didn’t have any injuries or anything major, but it is likely these could happen when there are power outages — expected or unexpected. And that puts everyone at risk,” Mendez told KFF.

Planned power outages tied to wildfire risks is just one more contingency nursing homes must prepare for, and the track record for preparedness during public health emergencies and natural disasters has been concerning. A September 2023 report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that a staggering number of nursing homes reported challenges in meeting the care needs during emergencies due mostly to inadequate staffing.


In February 2023, another report developed by the Senate Committee on Finance and the Senate Special Committee on Aging called for more robust emergency plans among nursing homes, and more oversight of these plans from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS).

Preemptive power cuts are becoming more common in areas of the country affected by wildfires, notably in California, and operators in these areas are forced to reevaluate their preparedness plans, but leaders in the sector say there still needs to be better communication between utilities companies and nursing homes.

While a spokesperson for Xcel said public safety power shut-offs can be improved, the company ensures power restoration at nursing homes and hospitals is prioritized.

More than half of nursing homes in the West are within 3.1 miles of an area with elevated wildfire risk, KFF reported, but these facilities had poorer compliance with federal emergency preparedness standards. In Colorado, eight in 20 nursing homes had deficiencies related to emergency supplies and power, federal audits of emergency preparedness found.

Some of these facilities didn’t have plans for alternate energy sources like generators, while others lacked documentation that their generators have been properly tested, maintained and inspected.

“With weather and climate change, this is definitely not the last time this will happen,” Julie Soltis, Frasier’s director of communications, told KFF.

Nursing homes need to have a disaster response plan to meet federal guidelines, but contingencies for controlled power outages are still relatively new.

Nursing homes are rushing to catch up, with California facilities facing a more stringent law to bring emergency power in nursing homes up to code. The law is expected to cost facilities more than $1 billion, according to the California Association of Health Facilities.

The state hasn’t allocated any funding to aid facilities in complying with the new law, and like most facilities across the country, those in California are already on a razor’s edge in terms of federal reimbursement, KFF reported.

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