September 15, 2017 – Powered for Patients addressed the emergency power requirements for nursing homes today following the tragic death Wednesday of eight patients at a Hollywood, Florida nursing home after the loss of the facility’s air conditioning.
Early media reporting about this incident included some incorrect and contradictory information about emergency power requirements for nursing homes. Powered for Patients Project Director Eric Cote noted that there are no State of Florida requirements or federal requirements in place today that require nursing homes or hospitals to have air conditioning systems connected to an emergency power source. While this is an optimal best practice, this won’t be a requirement until November 2017 when the federal government’s new emergency preparedness requirements for healthcare facilities accepting Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements take effect.
Among the new federal rules is a requirement that hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities be able to maintain safe temperatures when utility power is lost. It is expected that most facilities will comply with this new requirement by connecting air conditioning systems to emergency power.
“The loss of life in the Hollywood, FL nursing home, currently attributed to lack of air conditioning, is not a new threat to patients following hurricanes,” said Cote. “Among the painful lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina was the potentially deadly impact lack of air conditioning can have on elderly or compromised patients when power outages extend for days. The new federal requirements will better protect patient health when extended power outages can turn heat and humidity into deadly threats.”
Currently, emergency power is required for nursing homes and long-term care (LTC) facilities if the nursing home/LTC-facility has an electric-operated fire suppression system, an elevator or any life support equipment for patients. Egress lighting is also required to have a backup power source. The source of emergency power used by nursing homes to meet these backup power requirements does not have to be a generator if other sources of alternative power exist. In the case of egress lighting, batteries can generally meet the emergency power need. However, in the majority of cases, generators are used to meet these emergency power requirements relating to fire suppression systems, life support equipment and elevators.
The facts Cote shared with media outlets were confirmed with leading experts on these matters, including a senior official with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which authors the key fire and life safety codes that govern generator requirements for healthcare facilities. Cote also spoke with an official from the Florida Health Care Association, which represents many of Florida’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
In advance of the new federal requirement, Cote urged nursing homes and long-term care facilities to consider other steps to ensure patient comfort and safety, including:
• If a facility’s normal emergency power system doesn’t currently have the capacity to support operation of the air conditioning system, consider modifications to the facility’s electrical system to enable installation of temporary portable generators to support operation of the air conditioning system.
• Carefully follow emergency power system checklists to ensure optimal operations of emergency power systems before, during and after disaster. This will be especially important if additional generator capacity is added to cover some or all of the facility’s air conditioning system. This checklist is available in the appendix of Protecting Patients When Disaster Strikes, the Powered for Patients playbook on safeguarding emergency power.
• Determine in advance of a disaster who you can contact in government and at your utility to alert them to any mechanical threat to emergency power or problem accessing generator fuel following a disaster. This early warning gives government an important head start in helping to avert the loss of emergency power and it provides utilities the opportunity to modify prioritized restoration plans.
• Ask your generator service and fuel providers to be in contact with local emergency management officials to get assistance if storm damage or lack of fuel hinders the ability of these service providers to get to your facility to make repairs or provide refueling.