FLORIDA -- The Florida agency overseeing nursing homes said Wednesday that 21 facilities, including two in Southwest Florida, are ignoring new rules aimed at preventing heat-related deaths during prolonged power outages.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration put Emergency Rule 59AER17-1 in place after more than a dozen residents of a Broward County nursing home died of heat-related causes in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
The rule, which is now under a legal challenge, requires nursing homes to prove they can run generators for four days and keep inside temperatures at 80 degrees or less and have those upgrades in place by the end of November.
They had until Oct. 31 to submit their plans. Regulators have threatened to start fining non-complying nursing homes $1,000 a day starting Nov. 15.
"It is of the utmost importance that the nursing homes who have not responded do so immediately," said Justin Senior, the secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration in a written statement. "These rules were implemented with the safety of patients and residents in nursing homes in mind."
The listed Lee County nursing home was Heartland Health Care Center-Fort Myers. A Collier County nursing home, The Arlington of Naples Inc., also made the list.
Calusa Harbour in Fort Myers was initially among them. But after an inquiry from The News-Press and the nursing home itself, the Agency for Health Care Administration conceded that Calusa Harbour had submitted a plan Oct. 26. It also removed a St. Petersburg nursing home from the original list.
Bill Brewster, executive director of Calusa Harbour in Fort Myers, said his nursing home was already in compliance.
"We actually meet all the requirements of the new rule without doing anything," he said. "So our plan was really simple."
Heartland Health Care Center did not immediately respond to an interview. The Arlington of Naples also did not comment, though a staffer who answered the phone Wednesday afternoon said the state had erred in putting the nursing home on the list.
LeadingAge Florida, a group representing nursing homes, was among the industry groups challenging the new rules in court, claiming the November deadline to implement the new rules was unrealistic. A Florida judge agreed, though state regulators maintain the plan reporting deadlines are still in place.
"It kind of goes to the confusion that seems to be surrounding the issue," said Cecka Rose Green, spokeswoman for LeadingAge Florida. "We agree with the governor's premise. We've never not agreed with ensuring that residents are safe during the time of an emergency."