Panel OKs bill requiring extra power sources for nursing homes

Sun Sentinel

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Nursing homes would have to have alternative power sources to keep on the air conditioning, under a bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

The bill would put into law the emergency rules ordered by Gov. Rick Scott after 12 elderly residents in Hollywood died of heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out power at their nursing home.

Scott’s rules initially required generators in nursing homes and assisted living facilities that could power air conditioning in the event of a loss of power. But they were rewritten after threats of legal action from trade groups representing nursing homes and ALFs. They argued that many small assisted living facilities could not afford the industrial generators required.

The new, rewritten rules — and the bill approved Wednesday — do not require a generator. Instead, they require some alternative power source to run air conditioning in emergency situations.

“You can call it a generator bill, but it may not be a generator. It could be natural gas or it could be some other power source,” said state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the bill sponsor. “And that makes sense — 10 years from now, generators may be passé and we may be solar or whatever.”

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services passed the bill unanimously. It still has to be heard by two committees before it reaches the Senate floor. Although there are a dozen bills relating to nursing home generators filed in the Florida Legislature, none has had a committee hearing in the House.

“I think his committee bill is going to be much broader and take into consideration a lot more than just the nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” Passidomo said.

The bill differs in one important aspect from Scott’s rules, in that it requires nursing homes and ALFs to keep at least four days of fuel for an emergency power source. Scott’s rules only require four days of fuel for facilities that are in an area where a state of emergency has been declared. In ordinary circumstances, under Scott’s rules, the facilities only need two or three days, depending on the size of the facility.

If the House produces a broader bill, the two chambers will have to agree on a single version of the bill before they can pass it and send it to Scott to be signed into law. Regardless of what else winds up in the bill, Passidomo said the bottom line is preventing more deaths.

“It shouldn’t have happened then, and we certainly don’t want it to happen in the future,” she said. “If these power sources work, then we won’t have any deaths.”