(Reuters) - One in five Florida nursing homes on Friday were counting on temporary generators to be delivered before Hurricane Dorian hits, according to the state agency charged with ensuring their residents will have air conditioning if power is knocked out.
The state legislature passed the law requiring generators after a dozen people died in a sweltering nursing home after 2017's Hurricane Irma. State officials are also racing to check some 120 nursing homes and assisted living facilities where they are unsure if generators or contingency plans are in place, Governor Ron DeSantis told a news conference.
Residents, meanwhile, scrambled to board up windows and stock up on food ahead of the storm, which is forecast to grow into a potentially deadly major hurricane before it roars ashore early on Tuesday.
Generators are an urgent matter in Florida, an ageing state where some 190,000 people live in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. DeSantis' predecessor, Rick Scott, signed the March 2018 law requiring nursing homes to be able to keep temperatures at or below 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27°C) for at least 72 hours after losing power.
The law followed problems in the wake of 2017's Hurricane Irma, which knocked out electricity to a wide swath of the state. This week, police in Hollywood, Florida, charged four nursing home employees with causing the deaths of 12 patients in the sweltering heat of a power outage that followed Irma.
"There are going to be site checks, there are going to be phone calls to make sure that they have a plan to deal with folks that are in their care," DeSantis said.
State data shows just 41.8% of Florida's 687 nursing homes have permanent generators in place, with 36.4% having temporary generators on site. Some 21.4%, or 147 nursing homes with beds for 17,754 people, have arrangements to have temporary generators delivered if they lose power, while three with the capacity to house a total 338 people, would evacuate if they lose power.
The picture is brighter among the state's 3,061 assisted-living facilities, which can house 106,086 people. Fully 94.3% of those sites have permanent generators in place, according to Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration.
State legislative records, however, show hundreds of nursing homes have received waivers allowing them to operate with temporary generators, even though the 2018 law intended for all sites to have permanent generators by the start of last year's hurricane season.
"There are tens of thousands, multiple tens of thousands of people whose safety could be at risk in this situation. And we've had two years to prepare for this," said Dave Bruns, a spokesman for the Florida chapter of AARP, a group representing Americans aged 50 and over, in a phone interview. "That we find ourselves in this situation is disappointing."
The state AHCS agency, which oversees nursing home and assisted-living facilities in the state, said it was working to ensure that all those sites complied with the law.
"Our agency remains committed to making sure long term care facilities can support safe conditions during loss of power," AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew said in a statement.
Many of the state's larger nursing homes are as much as 30 years old, meaning that installing generators can take extensive regulatory review as well as potentially replacing entire electrical systems, said Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents about 80 percent of the state's nursing homes.
"These aren't generators that you go to Home Depot and purchase and plug in," Knapp said. She added that following the declaration of a state of emergency, nursing home operators had 24 hours to get their temporary generators delivered: "Ideally, those generators are all going to be in place before Dorian even makes landfall."
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Dan Grebler and Alistair Bell)
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