How not to learn from a nursing home tragedy

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

We've seen a lot of things change in the past year.

Our nation now has a new president, changing regulatory oversight and numerous marketplace adjustments in play. Yet one troublesome matter remains largely as it was.

As you may recall, it was less than a year ago that McKnight's began reporting about a needless and horrific tragedy. To be more specific: More than a dozen residents at a Florida facility died for no good reason in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Because the facility's electricity couldn't be turned on for days on end, these poor souls were basically left to swelter and die.

The conditions that fueled this catastrophe almost beggar belief. The facility where the residents lived IN SOUTH FLORIDA had no backup generators in place. Not that this building was unique in this regard. Turns out many operators in that part of the nation still view generators as an unaffordable luxury. Prior to this year, Florida didn't even have a law on the books requiring them.

Are generators expensive? You bet. But so are things like land, buildings, staffing and other costs of doing business. You know what else can get really, really expensive? Wrongful death lawsuits.

If there is one locale where backup generators should be viewed as a price of admission, it's South Florida. This is, after all, an area where extreme heat and humidity come with the territory. It's also where hurricanes occur with enough frequency to merit the posting of evacuation routes.

So let's be clear: Last year's tragedy wasn't a once-in-a-century outlier. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

What have Florida lawmakers done since this avoidable tragedy took place? They enacted new legislation that mandates that if this ever happens again, the responsible enablers will be locked away for the rest of their natural lives. Just kidding.

They did far, far less. Technically, they passed a law. One that has a generator provision you could drive a hurricane through. In fact, more than 1,000 facilities in South Florida still do not have backup power in place, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

But why should operators get all the blame? Fair credit must also be given to the kind souls at the local power utility. For not only did the folks running the  Florida Power & Light Co. not allow long-term care facilities to be on the priority restoration restoration list last year — they just rejected a request to grant the benefit now. Then again, what's the worst thing that could happen?

For their sake, let's hope operators with an aversion to generators and tone-deaf utility regulators don't actually believe in God. Or for that matter, the concept of a Judgment Day. Otherwise, they might eventually have to deal with a place where the heat really gets turned up.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.