Nursing Home Deaths Highlight the Need for Change in Healthcare Disaster Prevention Plans
For the past few weeks, Hurricane Irma has been wreaking havoc in the Southeastern United States and Caribbean islands. The powerful storm has been displacing residents, shifting lifestyles, and even causing death. The death toll has risen even more this week after eight residents died in a Florida nursing home, sparking outrage in the families who insist this tragedy could have been prevented . There was an air conditioning power outage, and although emergency responders arrived on the scene after receiving distress calls, three people were dead on arrival and five more died later that day, all between the ages of 70 and 99 . Although no official cause of death has been released, the police chief believes the deaths were heat-related and has launched a criminal investigation . Governor Rick Scott ordered that the nursing home be denied further assistance from the Medicaid program, which will likely lead to its closure .
The Rehabilitation Center released a statement saying that when the air conditioning system broke down, they immediately called county officials and power management, set-up mobile cooling units and fans, and frequently checked on patients . Yet the Mayor of Broward, the county where the nursing home is located, said the home did not say there were any medical emergencies and has a history of problems including poor patient care . Family members and loved ones are mourning their losses and demanding answers from The Rehabilitation Center, describing the loss as “a horror story” and preventable .
Policymakers realized disaster prevention in health care institutions was seriously lacking and created some rules after an estimated 215 people died in hospitals and nursing homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 . One rule they created regarding power supplies and temperature control will not be enacted until this November, which may have helped prevent the current situation if it was enforced sooner . Some patient advocates are still concerned these guidelines will not be enough: it is extremely difficult to change health care rules even after repeat occurrences of power outages and other system failures . Additionally, policy makers have faced resistance from hospitals and nursing homes, which argue that some requirements are costly and unneeded .
After the deaths in Florida this week, many are questioning whether the policy should be expanded to include backup generators for air-conditioning systems . The families are angry and insisting upon change, and public health officials want to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. The centers for Medicaid said that many people wanted more clarity about temperature control standards, but the agency refused to set a standard, saying “we have not set minimums for these types of requirements because they would vary greatly between facilities” . Medicaid can also partially cover the cost of generators, causing people like Keith Myers, chairman of the Florida Board of Nursing Home Administrators, to state that not being able to afford a generator is no excuse .
With families suffering with the losses of their loved ones, policymakers hope that the tragedy promotes action by increasing the amount of regulation for hospitals and care homes. The situation has brought to light the fact that many healthcare institutions are ill-prepared to deal with disaster, which needs to change in order to avoid more loss.
- Chan, Melissa. “'This Is a Horror Story.' Outraged Families Demand Justice After 8 Die in Florida Nursing Home.” Times.com, Time Inc, 14 Sept. 2017. http://time.com/4941998/florida-nursing-home-victims-family/
Reisner, Neil, and Sheri Fink. “Nursing Home Death in Florida Heighten Scrutiny of Disaster Planning.” Nytimes.com, New York Times, 14 Sept. 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/us/nursing-home-deaths-irma.html