Nursing Home Deaths Heighten Scrutiny of Disaster Planning

Tragic deaths of eight nursing home residents bring issue back to light …

(NEIL REISNER and SHERI FINKSEPT, NEW YORK TIMES)

After an estimated 215 people died in hospitals and nursing homes in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, policy makers realized that the nation’s health care institutions were ill-prepared for disasters.

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One of the rules they created after years of discussion looked especially prescient in light of the tragic deaths on Wednesday of eight nursing home residents in Florida’s post-hurricane heat.

But the rule, regarding power supplies and temperature control, will not be enforced until November, and even then, some patient advocates are concerned that it does not go far enough.

The debate shows how challenging it has been to overhaul health care rules even after repeated instances of power failures and flooding, from Katrina to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, to Hurricane Harvey last month and now Hurricane Irma.

Hospitals and nursing homes have pushed back against some requirements, arguing that they are costly and unnecessary.

The new federal rule will require that nursing homes have “alternate sources of energy to maintain temperatures to protect resident health and safety.”

But the rule does not specifically require backup generators for air-conditioning systems — the nursing home in Florida, Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, did not have such a generator — and now some are questioning whether the rule should.

“It’s vague, but this event is going to highlight the need,” said Dr. David Marcozzi, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and former director of a federal health care preparedness program. “Let me put it this way, if you were in Alaska and what was required to maintain safe temperatures was a heater, you wouldn’t say you don’t need the heater.”

“No one should freeze to death,” he added. “No one should have a heat injury.” READ FULL STORY AT THE NEW YORK TIMES. 

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