House lawmakers voted with almost no discussion Friday to require that assisted living facilities have generators, ratifying a rule pushed by Gov. Rick Scott in the days after Hurricane Irma.
The Department of Elder Affairs rule, spurred by the deaths of a dozen residents who overheated in a Hollywood nursing home after the storm, had been passed in the Senate through SB 7028 but was waiting on action from the House. Lawmakers in both chambers had already passed a similar rule for nursing homes from the state Agency for Health Care Administration earlier this week.
But the assisted living facilities rule — unlike the nursing home rule — was not heard by any House committee before it was brought to the floor from the Senate. In response to a question from Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, said the bill did not have a House companion at all.
The pair of rules require backup power sources that could continue to maintain cooling systems in the event of an outage, and require power sources that can be portable but must provide at least 30 square feet of cool space for each resident. Nursing homes and larger assisted living facilities must have 72 hours of fuel at those locations. Smaller assisted living facilities with fewer than 17 beds would only be required to have 48 hours of fuel on site. Nursing homes will also be required to have equipment that can control indoor temperatures for 96 hours after an outage and maintain an ambient temperature of no more than 81 degrees.
"We're glad to finally have some clarity on the requirements for our members," said Gail Matillo, president of the trade group Florida Senior Living Association in a statement. "We'll work closely with our members to make sure they can comply in the best way possible."
Scott had proposed stricter rules for long-term care facilities after the storm, but industry groups and his administration compromised earlier this year after months of legal dispute.
House lawmakers then pushed the nursing home rule through a committee last month but did not bring up the rule for assisted living facilities. The chair of the committee, Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, at the time expressed concern over the cost the rule might impose on smaller operators.
A staff analysis estimated the rule would cost about $243 million for all the facilities in the state. Nursing homes, by the same analysis, would have to spend more than $121 million to comply with their generator rule over the next five years, though about $66 million could come from Medicaid and $25 million of that from the state.
The cost of the rule — greater than $1 million over five years — required that the legislature ratify the big-ticket rules before they become effective.
Senate leaders raised a $350,000 proposal that would have offset the cost for smaller assisted living facilities, but it was axed from the healthcare budget that was belatedly agreed to mid-week. House Appropriations Chair Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said the House had deemed the money too paltry to offer meaningful help.
Despite those concerns, the rule passed the House 108-1 Friday, with Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, opposed.