Nelson: Senate Should Look into Fla. Nursing Home Deaths

Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has called for a Senate Committee investigation into the deaths of 12 residents at a nursing home in Hollywood, in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

In a letter Friday to Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Ron Wyden of Oregon, who are the Chair and the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Nelson urged the committee to undertake a "thorough investigation to determine what led to 12 seniors dying at a nursing home in Hollywood, in South Florida after Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning."

Nelson said, in his letter, that it was his understanding that it is the state's responsibility to certify a nursing home's compliance with all federal emergency preparedness regulations in order to receive federal payments under the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

"And to receive a state's certification," he continued, "Current federal regulations require skilled nursing facilities and nursing facilities to develop and maintain an adequate emergency plan that is reviewed at least annually by the state."

The Senator noted that, to receive payments from the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, a nursing home must be certified by its state health agency. 

"In certifying a nursing home," Nelson said, "It is the state's responsibility to ensure that a nursing home is in compliance with all applicable federal regulations."

Nelson further contended that federal regulations require nursing homes to have an emergency plan in place to ensure the health and safety of its residents in the event of an emergency. 

Federal regulations also require that nursing homes have in place an alternate source of energy to maintain "temperatures to protect resident health and safety."

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills did not have an alternate source of energy powering its air conditioning unit and, as a result, was unable to maintain temperatures in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Nelson said he wants to ensure that there are sufficient protections in place so that seniors in similar facilities are protected during future disasters.

Nelson is asking the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to investigate the state’s certification process of the facility and the emergency preparedness plans at similar facilities.

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