LARGO, Fla. — As Hurricane Michael heads closer to land, we're reminded of a tragic event during Hurricane Irma. At least a dozen people were killed at a nursing home after it was left without air conditioning in September of 2017. Following the incident, lawmakers passed regulations requiring Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators or an alternate power source. But a year later, has it worked?
"Sitting here today do you think most facilities have an up and running generator?" ABC Action News asked Sandra Bollenback. She's the administrator and owner of the Vineyard Inn Assisted Living in Largo.
"No I do not," said Bollenback.
Nearly a year since the law came down, Bollenback's new generator will be up and running in about two weeks. Bollenback says it took this long due to financial and timeline difficulties. Her biggest obstacle was finding someone to get inside her facility and begin the work. It also took architects, design plans, time and about $130,000.
"My only problem with the ruling was that I think it was a knee-jerk reaction and I thought there was no way it was humanly possible to get a generator done in that period of time," she said.
That's why as soon as it became law she filed a plan and requested a delay with the Agency for Health Care Administration. AHCA is the office overseeing compliance with the new laws. In fact, the state has a compliance database. Their latest figures show that 96% of all Florida facilities are currently compliant.
"That's paper compliance... not up and running generator," said Bollenback.
The AHCA's compliance map indicates compliance means when a facility has an implemented plan or an extension approved or requested. As Bollenback said, it seemingly means paperwork, not an indicator of a facility actually having an up and running generator or alternate power source.
"If we had a major hurricane hit today my generator is not up and running but I'm still in compliance," she said.
She says these figures won't do you any good in telling which facility actually has one. Your best bet is to call the facility directly and ask.
"A concern? Yes, but I do think facilities like myself are doing everything humanly possible to get it installed, up and running and to keep my residents and staff safe," she said.
Bollenback believes progress is happening because of this law despite the headaches to get to this point.
The final deadline for facilities to have an alternate power source is January 1, 2019. ABC Action News reached out to AHCA asking for a comment and any potential numbers the agency might have on the number of facilities that currently have a running generator or alternate power source. We are waiting to hear back. State offices are closed through Thursday due to the state of emergency.
Please see the below statements from Secretary Justin Senior:
“Florida has some of the strictest standards, if not the most strict standards with regards to emergency power in the nation. We are fully committed to holding our facilities accountable to these high standards. We recognize that this is an aggressive timeline for implementation, and our Agency has seen a lot of progress from the facilities in working to implement these emergency rules. Not only are facilities working to come into compliance, but in many cases they have gone above what the rule requires with regard to cooling the facility, and many facilities are working to install generators that would cool the entire facility.”
“We really appreciate and encourage this comprehensive approach. The changes that we see the facilities implementing are not generally temporary solutions, but are long-term improvements that will provide a safer environment with regards to temperatures for residents. These are lasting improvements, which will allow emergency operations officials to use a more targeted approach in the aftermath of storms and other periods of prolonged power outage.”
“In some cases these are long-term projects that require permitting, zoning and construction. And pursuant to Florida law, a private business may seek a variance from any rule, given the business meets stringent requirements. Before our Agency grants any variances we need to see that the facility has made great strides to come into compliance and that any delay is out of their control. The rules have been in effect for months now, and a facility that has procrastinated is unlikely to meet the state’s strict variance standards. Any facility that has a delay in implementation will need to submit evidence that shows they are well underway in their project before they are granted a variance. If a facility is not following the law, we will aggressively issue fines. In fact, we’ve already began the process of fining certain facilities. Again, we will stop at nothing to ensure these facilities are appropriately protecting Florida patients.”