As we reflect on what we’ve learned since Hurricane Irma blasted Florida one year ago, Florida’s nursing centers are continuing their work of improving preparations, education, and training – to be ready for a storm of comparable power and impact.
We cannot forget the lessons of the tragedy that struck a South Florida nursing center last year. Even though that center was not a member of Florida Health Care Association, the loss of life there was felt deeply throughout the long-term care profession. The episode has served as an immeasurable motivator for our member nursing centers and assisted living facilities to remain prepared to keep our more than 70,000 residents safe throughout the storm season.
Following Florida’s brush with Tropical Storm Gordon this week and three powerful systems brewing in the Atlantic as this is written, these dedicated caregivers continue to demonstrate strong leadership to be ready for whatever comes their way.
Since Governor Rick Scott implemented new generator requirements for long-term care centers, our members have been working tirelessly on their emergency power plans, including strengthening steps for both evacuation and shelter-in-place scenarios. They’re enhancing their systems for communicating with family members and enhancing relationships with emergency managers so those authorities have a better understanding of the centers’ residents and the complexities of their medical needs. They’re also putting those plans to the test, running disaster drills and training seminars so both staff and residents are familiar with the steps that will be taken during an emergency.
Centers are also working to install their permanent generators to keep residents safe, cool, and comfortable if they experience a loss of power. The generator installation process can take an average of 38 weeks to complete – these are not like a portable generator to cool your home, they are massive and custom-fit for buildings that, on average, house 120 residents. While centers are navigating through the logistics of permitting, zoning, engineering, construction, and inspection of these massive generators and the fuel to accompany them, they’re bringing in mobile generators or making plans to evacuate should the power go out.
Compliance with regulations to keep residents safe is a responsibility our member centers have and always will take seriously. At the same time, these centers are demonstrating that there’s more to their mission than just compliance – it’s about providing quality care and enriching the lives of elders who can no longer care for themselves at home.
Every day – whether in the midst of hurricane season or not – FHCA members remain dedicated to improving health outcomes for our residents. Their care and safety remain our first priorities, and we are steadfast in our commitment to do everything we can to ensure their well-being no matter what nature throws our way.
One year after Irma, Florida’s long-term care residents should feel a greater sense of comfort knowing their caretakers are prepared for any situation that comes their way. And family members should feel at ease with the reassurance that their loved ones are in good hands.
Emmett Reed is the executive director of the Florida Health Care Association.