Haunted by nursing home horror, task force joins rush to make sure it isn’t repeated

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In a crowded North Miami Beach City Hall chamber, elected officials, first responders and healthcare workers gathered to establish a task force to better regulate senior facilities, in the wake of eight deaths in Hollywood.

The task force, started Tuesday, aims to combine efforts to enact national, state and local policies to ensure the safety of those in assisted living facilities in the wake of a disaster. Last week, eight at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died after the building’s air cooling system failed in the aftermath of Irma.

“I am livid,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat whose district includes the Hollywood nursing home. “We should all be beside ourselves.”

Wilson said the task force will split into smaller groups looking at first responders, utilities and other areas of concern. Mental health was added to the list during the meeting at the behest of one attendee.

Wilson said she wants to amend the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to make hospitals and nursing homes a top priority in disaster response. She also will work to require that the Federal Emergency Management Agency prioritize critical care facilities to be up and running again quickly after disaster.

Wilson also wants to enact legislation to require that assisted living facilities have a backup generator or power source if they want to be eligible for federal funds.

“We do not want another Hollywood Hills,” she said.

Arlene Mayo-Davis, the Agency for Health Care Administration’s field office manager for Delray Beach, said AHCA has already proposed mandating centers have an emergency power source and 96 hours of fuel to run it.

State Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, has filed a bill that would require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have working generators that are subject to random, unannounced inspections.

She called the deaths tragic and preventable.

“We now have a chance to fix what went wrong and ensure something like this never happens again,” she said.

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Lawmakers, healthcare officials and others met Tuesday at North Miami Beach City Hall to discuss making nursing homes safer when the power goes out after a windstorm.

Caitlin Ostroff Miami Herald staff

North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo said he and other mayors, including those in Miami Gardens, Hollywood and Opa-locka, will be looking at any issues that can arise, not just emergency power.

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“It’s not like a fire drill at school where the kids are all young and healthy and they’re out the door in two minutes. It took hours,” he said.

Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy said he’s supporting the task force and lobbying for Sen. Book’s bill. He said Hollywood is limited on what it can do unilaterally because nursing homes are regulated by the state.

“It’s a legal restriction we cannot circumvent,” he said.

Wilson said the different areas of expertise on the task force will more holistically address reforms that need to be made.

“Sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to get people to change,” she said.


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