Stricter electric rules sought for nursing homes

Advocates for Ohio nursing home residents are seeking lessons from the tragic death of 11 nursing home residents in Florida during Hurricane Irma after the facility lost power. To protect residents and prevent nursing home neglect and abuse, advocates are seeking tougher nursing home requirements.

Following these deaths in Florida, Governor Rick Scott issued an emergency order requiring that nursing homes and assisted-living centers install generators that provide sufficient power for air conditioning and heating for four days. These facilities have 60 days to comply.

In Ohio, nursing homes must have generators for ventilators, feeding machines and other life-support systems. Rules do not address air conditioners and heating systems. Nursing home generators must only provide power for 90 minutes. However, facilities should also have agreements with a company to supply natural gas to operate longer.

When power is lost, Ohio facilities are required to monitor temperature. Nursing homes must transport residents to hospitals or other care facilities if the temperature exceeds 81 degrees or falls below 71 degrees during an emergency.

However, these rules are insufficient. If an emergency occurs during the summer, several facilities could lose power and eliminate places where residents could be moved. Experts, accordingly, are seeking stricter measures requiring generators to handle cooling and heating systems.

An Ohio Health Care Assoc. spokesperson said that most facilities can supply power for cooling and heating. Florida's requirements would be prohibitively expensive because it would mandate much larger generators and fuel storage capacity. Ohio also experiences less destructive weather emergencies such as Hurricane Irma.

However, regulators closed a Columbus nursing home in Aug 2016 after the facility lost air conditioning for several days when its system broke. Residents reportedly suffered from dehydration and temperatures sometimes soared to 82 to 93 degrees.

According to a 2015 report from the Miami University in Oxford, 72 of Ohio's 88 counties had at least one federally declared major disasters between 2005 and 2015. While the state's approximately 960 nursing homes had emergency plans, only 55 percent of these facilities coordinated these plans with nearby hospitals, first responders and public health officials.

Nursing home negligence and inadequate emergency equipment may constitute grounds for a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Residents harmed by this neglect and their families should seek prompt legal assistance to pursue their rights.

Source: The Plain Dealer, "Advocates seek tighter rules in Ohio nursing homes after Florida deaths: A critical choice," John Caniglia & Jo Ellen Corrigan, Sept. 28, 2017

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