After suffering through 2 hurricanes and bracing for a third, Advocates for seniors are calling for power companies to reprioritize their essential services list, so that nursing homes have their power turned back on earlier. Lumarie Polivka-West, is policy director at the Florida Health Care Association, a statewide group that represents senior care facilities. She has been fielding complaints from nursing homes since hurricane charley.

ACT-west ‘A facility in Palm Beach county had people with temperatures up to 103, they had to be sent to the hospital..and hospitals are full, so there has been some reaction by hospitals who thought these homes should take care of their own.’

But west says that

Shari Jacobs is a spokeswoman for Progress energy, she says that nursing homes are not on the top of their priority list after power goes out.

ACT ‘So we start with the transmission system, then essential services, those that get the most people in the least amount of time.�

Russ banister, spokesman for TECO, says that their company has the same essential services list which does not include nursing homes, and that facilities need to communicate their needs to the power companies.

ACT ‘They need to let us know about that

And Jacobs from progress energy says they already take peoples needs into consideration

ACT-Jacobs ‘Special needs customers are pretty high, shelters, nursing homes would probably fall under that category.�

But west from the Florida health care association, says that trying to work with the power companies in the panhandle before hurricane Ivan has not worked for senior care facilities.

ACT ‘I’ve learned no, we've told the facilities to contact before the storm, and were getting reports back that “no you are not an essential customer�

other methods have worked better

ACT-west “We started applying a lot of pressure to the governors office, etc, elected officials, we found that facilities that weren’t gonna have power for a another week, all of the sudden they were restored.�

The state government has no legal ability to force power companies to make nursing homes a higher priority. Nursing homes are also required by law to have generators in case of a power outage, but these generators often do not last as long as needed for medical equipment, including oxygen pumps. Christine Austerland works with the state agency for health care administration, she says

ACT-Austerland ‘Even though those facilities are required to have generators..if that generator fails, people can die…the safest thing to do is to get power restored as soon as possible.�

There are over 80,000 Floridians in nursing homes, which are private facilities, but often receive payment from government funded Medicare and Medicaid programs.

ACT ‘They are a private business, but the most important thing is that they are licensed’s a matter of life and death, it’s not public versus private sector….�

West say that especially in times of emergency, nursing homes are not much different from hospitals.

ACT-west “The residents themselves are very frail sick individuals, the same kind of people who are in a hospital,…so its puts them at risk in terms of heightened temperatures,

Austerland says after this hurricane season, her agency, the state legislature, and the power companies will sit down and try to construct a better system.

ACT-Austerland “The state learned many lessons after Andrew, building cods, etc. now we happen to have hen where many facilities are in the path, so we are identifying areas that need improvement.�

She’s optimistic that the power companies see the need to protect seniors.

ACT-Austerland “Our secretary Alan Levine was out visiting facilities and as he talked with power companies, they understood, hopefully it will just be a matter of sitting at the table

The state legislature may have a special session in November—many representatives, including senator Ron Klein, have indicated that the issue of power for senior care facilities will be on the top of the agendas, as will many issues related the this years hurricanes.

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