After the destructive repercussions Hurricane Irma had on Florida’s elderly residents, a new bill looks to address the key issue as to why they were so negatively affected.
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, many Florida nursing home residents faced life-threatening conditions. In the most high profile case, 14 residents passed away in a Hollywood nursing home after a broken air conditioning system left the building in sweltering heat. Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities did not update their contact information. Leaving many families in the dark as to the condition of residents. State Representative Emily Slosberg witnessed the issue first-hand. She governs the second oldest demographic out of all the house districts in Boca Raton, which means her office handled many of the nursing home issues after the Hurricane.
“We were being called by family members who could not get a hold of their loved ones in these facilities. They were worried sick,” Slosberg says.
Slosberg’s House Bill 443, would force nursing homes and assisted living facilities to be more transparent with their residents and their residents’ authorized representatives.
Nursing homes would have to notify residents and the State Long Term Care Ombudsman of their current contact information. In addition, if any changes are made to their contact information, they are required to notify both residents and Ombudsman within 30 days. Amy Datz says that would have helped her., who spoke at a press conference for the bill. She says her mother died in the chaos of Hurricane Irma.
“It’s very distressing to have this happen to you, and not be able to communicate with those you love. You can’t always be here. Many many people in nursing homes in Florida have people out of state and out of country. And it’s so important to be able to keep that line of communication. Not only for the family members, but for the person in the nursing home because it really does raise their spirit to hear from their families, and know that they care," Datz says.
The bill would align Florida nursing home regulations with federal ones, allowing residents access to their own personal records 24 hours after a request and get a copy of those records within two days. Rep. Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) says all these things are common sense.
“This is common sense. There’s no fiscal attach to it. It just requires, when you move, all you have to do is update your information with the state Ombudsman. So, at least we know where you’re at, and the family knows where you’re at. This is a consumer friendly bill,” she says.
At a Subcommittee on Wednesday, the bill passed unanimously. However, it received some scrutiny from Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa). He worries the bill shifts too much power to the State Ombudsman.
“My concern is by involving the Ombudsman in that process, you’re gonna potentially give standing to another party that doesn’t have standing in current law. And it could just further cause problems in that regard,” Harrison says.
Slosberg says she’ll work with the Florida Healthcare Association as the bill moves forward.