Nursing Home Hurricane Preparedness in Florida Remains Lacking Two Years After Irma

As Hurricane Dorian continues to approach the U.S., a recent report suggests that most nursing homes in Florida are still not prepared for storms, even after preparedness failures before Hurricane Irma left elderly and infirmed residents throughout the state in peril.

About 60% of all facilities Florida have failed to implement plans designed to ensure that indoor temperatures remain under under 81 degrees in case of a power outage, as well as other nursing home hurricane preparedness measures, according to statistics from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

Two years ago, following Hurricane Irma, state officials put new rules in place that require every nursing home to have a backup generator. About 90% say they have such generators, but many do not meet the specifics of the state requirements, even after being given an additional year to comply.

The law requires nursing homes and assisted living facilities to be able to keep the temperature from exceeding 81 degrees for at least 96 hours in case of a power outage. Nearly 300 facilities have been fined in the last year for failing to meet those requirements.

The rule changes were spurred by the deaths of 14 patients at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, shortly after Irma struck in September 2017. The nursing home, which had not been evacuated, lost power and air conditioning, leading to numerous heat deaths.

Last week, four employees of the nursing home were charged with manslaughter, including three nurses and one of its administrators.

The charges came following a criminal investigation into the deaths, 12 of which were ruled homicides. The investigation found that officials at the facility refused to evacuate the facility for three days following the loss of power, even though temperatures were stifling and there was a hospital right across the street.

Prosecutors have charged Jorge Carballo, the former administrator, and Sergo Colin, the night shift nursing supervisor, with 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter. Tamika Miller, a nurse, was charged with six counts of aggravated manslaughter and evidence tampering. Another nurse, Althia Meggie, was charged with two counts of aggravated manslaughter and evidence tampering as well.

While the facility had a backup generator, and had seven days of fuel for it, as well as extra food and water, the central air conditioning system was not connected to the generator, meaning even though the building had power, it did not have air conditioning.

The staff used portable air conditioning units on the first floor, which transferred their excess heat to the second floor. That is where 11 of the 12 deaths occurred.

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