Florida Emergency Power Plan Soon Taking Effect

The 2017 calendar year has seen Mother Nature be incredibly unforgiving to the United States. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have battered the southeast from Texas to North Carolina, and wildfires have ravaged California and other western states. In the media’s coverage of Hurricane Irma, homes were shown badly damaged, boats were shown washed up on land, and people were seen paddling through floodwaters. However, Hurricane Irma caused massive damage in other fashions as well. In Hollywood, Florida, eight nursing home residents tragically lost their lives after a prolonged power failure left the nursing home with no cooling system. In the midst of this tragedy, the state of Florida has taken swift action.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) issued an emergency power plan rule on September 18, 2017, requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to equip themselves with generators and alternative fuel capacities sufficient to ensure that temperatures within these facilities can be maintained at or below 80 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 96 hours in the event of a power outage. A state fire marshal must then inspect the generators within 15 days of the installation. Not only does the rule call for these organizations to come up with alternative power supplies, but the rule also requires these organizations to draft and submit an emergency power plan to the AHCA or the DOEA. Full compliance with the rule, including both alternative power sources and full implementation of an emergency power plan, is required by November 15, 2017. Facilities that fail to come into full compliance by the deadline are subject to the possibility of $1,000.00 per day fines, or revocation of the organization’s license to operate in Florida.

With this fast-approaching deadline, many nursing homes and assisted living facilities are struggling to come into compliance with the rule. Some organizations claim compliance by the current deadline is impossible, partially due to compliance barriers, coupled with the high demand for generators in a state that has been badly battered by the 2017 hurricane season. The AHCA and DOEA have issued a supplement to the emergency power rule, which provides for the affected organizations to apply for a variance from the current deadline and allow for more time to become compliant.

If the Atlantic hurricane seasons of the past two years are any indication of things to come, other states may need to take steps to implement similar laws aimed at minimizing damage and protecting lives. It should also be kept in mind that laws such as this may expand over time to become requirements of healthcare entities other than just nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Even without this law currently extending to other entities in the healthcare field, disasters such as hurricanes demonstrate the need for organizational compliance at all levels. Healthcare entities are subject to a wide variety of compliance requirements at the state and federal levels, and nearly all require a plan in place to overcome a disaster or emergency. Not only are compliance requirements wide-ranging and complex, but they are constantly changing. All entities involved in the field of healthcare would be wise to revisit their current disaster and emergency policies and procedures sooner rather than later, and should strongly consider consulting with an experienced healthcare attorney in doing so.