Nearly two years after a dozen nursing home residents died from heat-related causes after Hurricane Irma, more than 1,000 elder care facilities across Florida still don’t have permanent generators in place to keep residents cool during power outages, an I-Team investigation found.
An I-Team review of records from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration uncovered:
- In the Tampa Bay area, 125 nursing homes and 160 assisted living facilities don't have approved, permanent generators in place.
- A new state law fines facilities as much as $1,000 per day for failure to install permanent generators, but records show facilities without generators rarely paid fines.
- Many of these facilities avoided fines by receiving state-approved extensions — blaming installation delays or financial hardships.
I-Team Investigator Adam Walser found some facilities have received as many as three extensions since a 2018 law went into effect requiring facilities to have a permanent generator and enough fuel to keep residents cool for at least four days.
“I'd give them a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for those companies that can afford to do something about that, have put profit ahead of the people they're entrusted to care for,” said Adam Montella, an emergency management consultant.
Consulate Healthcare, one of Florida's largest nursing home operators, has received multiple extensions for all 77 of its Florida nursing homes.
22 of facilities — with 2,500 patients — are in the Tampa Bay area.
Consulate received extensions from the state after submitting nearly identical temporary emergency plans for all its Florida facilities.
The temporary plans call for generator rentals from a single Tampa company for facilities in Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Tallahassee.
Those plans also call for patient evacuation to sister facilities — something Montella said could be difficult in a hurricane.
“Think of a powerless situation like in Michael or in Irma… when there's no power for 30, 40 days,” said Montella, who previously worked as a supervisor involved in crisis management for FEMA and the American Red Cross.
Consulate declined an on-camera interview and would not directly answer questions about why it still had not installed generators at its facilities but said in an emailed statement, “We remain extremely confident in our ability to ensure that our residents and staff are safe in our centers, while also navigating the many complexities of complying with new state regulations, which we have done precisely according to the law and will continue to do."
Florida lawmakers ordered all facilities to install generators after the death of 12 nursing home residents of the Rehabilitation Center Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida during Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
Emergency workers scrambled to evacuate residents from the sweltering nursing home still without power several days after the storm.
In Pinellas County, St. Mark’s Assisted Living Center in Palm Harbor also lost power for several days after Irma.
“It was extremely hot. I think it was probably in the upper 80s in the room temperature,” said Rob Shaw, whose father Jack lived at the facility.
County workers brought generators, fans and cooling machines for the elderly residents and dementia patients at the facility.
“I wouldn't want anybody else's father, mother, loved one to be in a situation like that,” said Shaw.
Rob Shaw's father died last October. His facility installed a generator shortly before his death.
But Shaw said he worries about those living at facilities without generators.
“We're going to have another hurricane come through. It could be much worse than Irma. Irma was a walk in the park for us. It was just a brush,” said Shaw.
Check out the generator status of specific nursing home or assisted living facility. You can see if a facility has received a "variance" — or more time from the state — to install a generator.
Full statement from ConsulateHealthcare:
Upon reading through your inquiry and specific questions below, it would seem as though you are under the impression that our care centers are not in compliance, so I want to be very clear that at no time since the passage of the generator law in question, has Consulate been out of compliance with the law. Any reporting that Consulate has failed to comply with the law is legally false. The law spells out clearly what facilities must do, from providing cool areas, emergency plans, waiver requests, and how to properly coordinate with all AHCA and local municipalities throughout the process. Consulate has followed these rules to the letter of the law, and will continue to do so. Our responsibility for the safety and well-being of our residents and our staff is our highest priority. Consulate will ensure their safety through any storm, or other disaster, by executing the successful emergency preparedness plans that are in place and trained on 365 days a year.
During Hurricane Irma, Consulate successfully transferred and cared for over 1,500 residents from evacuated centers, cared for the rest of 8,500 of our residents in buildings that sheltered in place, while also taking in several hundred residents (at the request of the State) from other providers that that were not able to meet the challenge, and we did it without incident. Post-storm, we followed the same protocols to ensure that they returned to their home safely. Similarly, with the storms since Irma, Consulate has kept affected residents and staff safe, either in their center or a sister center, while also taking in many residents and staff from other providers. We remain extremely confident in our ability to ensure that our residents and staff are safe in our centers, while also navigating the many complexities of complying with new state regulations, which we have done precisely according to the law and will continue to do.