Hurricane Harvey

Recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have led to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wanting to boost its emergency preparedness plans nationwide for future natural disasters, an official with the agency said Tuesday.

Kimberly Brandt, principal deputy administrator for operations at CMS, said the agency had to “think outside of the box” to come up with creative ways of supporting and communicating in providers in storm-hit areas. Brandt spoke during a hearing in the House Energy & Commerce Committee Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on federal health programs’ preparedness and response to this year’s hurricane season.

But when asked by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) how a Hollywood Hills skilled nursing facility could “be so unprepared for a medical emergency that 14 residents lost their lives” during Hurricane Irma, Brandt called the incident “a complete management failure.”

Reports on the Hollywood Hills incident shows “several of the failings” that led up to the residents’ deaths involved staff not being adequately trained on the emergency preparedness plan, or following proper emergency protocol, Brandt added.

“They did not meet our conditions for participation for keeping the temperature at a reasonable level; they did not provide adequate care to the patients,” Brandt said. “In terms of patient safety the management has the responsibility to ensure that they are meeting emergency preparedness requirements.”

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) also tackled the Hollywood Hills deaths, as well as “why it has taken so long” to implement the emergency preparedness rules that came out of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Surveys ensuring compliance with that rule, which was finalized last year, will begin on Nov. 15.

“[The rule] is something that we think goes a long way toward addressing a lot of the concerns that have been raised by Hollywood Hills, but in light of the event there was want to continue to look at it to see if we could do more,” Brandt said. 

The hearing also included questions on whether nursing facilities will be reimbursed to comply with parts of the emergency preparedness rule, such as the requirement that facilities have generators. Brandt said CMS is looking at the possibility but declined to comment further.

Click here to view the full hearing on the Department of Health and Human Service’s hurricane response.