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House Passes Wilson Language to Protect Seniors in Nursing Homes during Natural Disasters

Today the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4667, an $81 billion disaster aid package. The package includes language provided by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson to protect seniors in nursing homes during natural disasters.

"Hurricanes are as much a part of Florida's ecosystem as its coral reefs, so we must be as proactive as possible in how we prepare for these inevitable storms. Such planning will help us save lives and reduce recovery costs," the congresswoman said.

Congresswoman Wilson's language requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide training and guidance annually that will ultimately assist nursing homes and long term care facilities to better prepare for power outages during a major natural disaster or other emergency and return to functioning status following such events. The congresswoman's language was in fact a direct response to the multiple-day delay in restoring power at the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, which resulted in the deaths of 14 residents, the majority of whom were senior citizens.

Specifically, the language says:

Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency shall provide guidance and training on an annual basis to State, Tribal, and local governments, first responders, and utility companies on—

(1) the need to prioritize assistance to hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities to ensure that such health care facilities remain functioning or return to functioning as soon as practicable during power outages caused by natural hazards, including severe weather events; and

(2) how hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should adequately prepare for power outages during a major disaster or emergency.

This is another effort by Congresswoman Woman to protect seniors and others who rely on nursing homes for care. When Congress returns in 2018, she will file legislation to mandate generators in nursing homes and prioritize nursing homes and long-term care facilities for power restoration following a disaster or emergency, and to award grants to nursing homes and long-term care facilities to help them purchase a generator or prepare for an emergency power outage.

Since the tragic deaths of 14 residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the congresswoman has taken several steps to improve nursing home emergency preparedness in her state and across the nation, including a district town hall meeting at which she launched a long-term care emergency response task force to address first response efforts at long-term care facilities and a congressional field hearing in Miami on nursing homes' emergency preparedness and response to disasters.

In a letter to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Congresswoman Wilson, joined by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), called on the committee to investigate the tragedy at Hollywood Hills so that lawmakers can "understand what led to such a horrific incident and how we can prevent such a tragedy in the future."

Congresswoman Wilson and 36 House members also have written to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to urge the agencies to "consider additional regulations requiring some nursing homes to possess alternate energy sources that can sustain heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems and to maintain a fuel supply that will last for at least seven days. The lawmakers also are calling on the agencies to consider regulations that would encourage state and local municipalities to warehouse additional alternate energy sources they can easily access in the event that their emergency plans fail.

In addition, the Florida Democrat plans to introduce legislation that will require nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that receive federal funding and resources to have a backup generator or other power source to protect residents, particularly senior citizens, from severe weather conditions.

."The families and friends of the 14 people who died as a result of the Hollywood Hills nursing home's negligence are struggling to find the strength to celebrate this holiday season and bring in the New Year without their loved ones. As lawmakers it is our duty to do all that we can to mitigate the possibility of such a disaster ever happening again—otherwise, the negligence will be ours," she said.