In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and the deaths of 14 seniors at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after that facility lost power, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is calling for a federal investigation of the matter.
On Thursday, Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, which oversees Medicaid and Medicare, asking for the investigation. Rubio also wrote U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oreg., the ranking Democrat on the committee, on the matter.
“In the wake of Hurricane Irma, 14 residents of a single nursing facility in Hollywood, Florida, passed away," Rubio wrote. “While this terrible tragedy is currently under investigation, it has been widely reported that these individuals were left in sweltering conditions after the nursing facility’s air conditioning system lost power. This has shocked the state of Florida, and rightfully raised questions about the oversight of nursing homes, particularly the enforcement of existing emergency preparedness requirements.”
Rubio noted that the state government had inspected the nursing home.
“Previous inspections of this particular facility, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, were conducted by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) on behalf of the state and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS),” Rubio wrote. “During a February 2016 inspection, AHCA found that the medication error rate during the observation period was nearly 26 percent, far exceeding the federal regulation requiring facilities to ensure that ‘medication error rates are not five percent or greater.’ Two years prior, AHCA found that the facility was not providing enough water to all patients in order to maintain proper hydration and health, contravening federal requirements. These violations are especially alarming since the facility’s personnel knew that they were being monitored by AHCA inspectors.0
“The Hollywood nursing home has also been cited for failing to properly maintain the automatic fire sprinkler system,” Rubio added. “Not only is this a violation of federal regulations, but it is also indicative of the lack of seriousness with which the nursing home considered emergency response plans, as well as CMS’ oversight of those plans. Moreover, federal regulations mandate that facilities’ emergency preparedness procedures address subsistence needs for residents, including alternate sources of energy to maintain temperatures and protect residents’ health and safety. Unfortunately, despite this requirement and the facilities’ close proximity to an operational hospital, residents were found to have temperatures exceeding 109 degrees, far above the level that puts seniors at risk for heat stroke.”
Rubio called on Hatch and Wyden to look at the Hollywood Hill nursing home and other facilities impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“As the chairman and ranking member of the committee with jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid, I implore you to investigate the failures that occurred at this nursing home and others throughout the country, particularly in Florida and Puerto Rico, to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future,” Rubio wrote. “Additionally, I respectfully request that you consider examining other ways in which Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were impacted by these storms and how better planning and coordination between the federal, state, and local government could mitigate harm caused by hurricanes.”
Last month, Rubio joined U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in calling for creating a new federal committee to tackle how to “better prepare and care for our nation’s seniors during a disaster.”
Nelson and Rubio teamed up with U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to introduce a bill creating a national advisory committee on the matter.
The bill makes the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Department create a National Advisory Committee on Seniors and Disasters. Under the proposal, the HHS secretary would name 15 federal and other governmental officials and health-care professionals with experience in disaster response to the committee.
Nelson introduced the bill and weighed in on why he brought it out.
“What happened in Hollywood is inexcusable,” Nelson said. “This bill will require the head of HHS to appoint a panel of experts to provide our state and local leaders with the guidance they need to make sure such a tragedy never happens again.”
Rubio, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, also made the case for why the committee was needed.
“Not only has the tragedy in Hollywood left wounds across the state of Florida, but it has exposed other examples of potential mismanagement at assisted living facilities in the state,” said Rubio. “This bill is a necessary step in preventing similar tragedies in the future and ensuring Florida’s seniors are taken care of during natural disasters.”
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