Gov­er­nor loses court bat­tle over nurs­ing homes

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By GARY FINEOUT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Gov. Rick Scott's push to force nurs­ing homes to add gen­er­a­tors in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Irma could be blocked after a judge ruled there was no press­ing dan­ger that jus­ti­fies the or­der.

Scott called for the rules after res­i­dents at the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills died in the days after Irma wiped out power to much of South Florida.

But an ad­min­is­tra­tive judge on Fri­day sided with the nurs­ing home in­dus­try that had chal­lenged the rules as im­pos­si­ble to meet un­der tight deadlines.

The gov­er­nor's of­fice said they would ap­peal the de­ci­sion. McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, called the rul­ing “short­sighted'' and “dis­ap­point­ing.”

“We will not let spe­cial in­ter­ests get in the way of th­ese life-sav­ing mea­sures,” Lewis said.

Hur­ri­cane Irma, which ripped across the state in Septem­ber, was the first ma­jor hur­ri­cane to hit Florida in more than a decade. It has been blamed for at least 70 deaths in the state and bil­lions in prop­erty dam­age. Among those who died were Hol­ly­wood Hills nurs­ing home res­i­dents who had been in the swel­ter­ing heat after power was knocked out.

The tragedy prompted Scott to use his emer­gency pow­ers to put in place new rules that re­quire nurs­ing homes and as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties to have gen­er­a­tors ca­pa­ble of pro­vid­ing backup power for four days.

The Repub­li­can gov­er­nor, who nor­mally brags about elim­i­nat­ing reg­u­la­tions on busi­nesses, gave nurs­ing homes 60 days to com­ply.

Sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions that rep­re­sent nurs­ing homes and other types of places where se­nior cit­i­zens live chal­lenged the man­date in two sep­a­rate le­gal ac­tions. Scott won in the 1st Dis­trict Court of Ap­peal where judges did a lim­ited re­view of the rule.

But after a two-day hear­ing that in­cluded tes­ti­mony from state of­fi­cials, Ad­min­is­tra­tive Judge Gar W. Chisen­hall con­cluded that there was not proof that what hap­pened at the Hol­ly­wood Hills was oc­cur­ring at other nurs­ing homes across the state.

“The greater weight of the ev­i­dence demon­strates that de­spite the tragic but sin­gu­lar events at Hol­ly­wood Hills, there is not “an im­me­di­ate dan­ger to the pub­lic health, safety or wel­fare'' to con­sti­tute an emer­gency,” Chisen­hall wrote.

Chisen­hall also ques­tioned the need to have an emer­gency rule that takes ef­fect in mid-Novem­ber right be­fore the end of hur­ri­cane sea­son. Hur­ri­cane sea­son runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Steve Bah­mer, pres­i­dent and CEO of one of the groups that chal­lenged the rules, said they were pleased with the rul­ing, which they con­tended con­firmed that Scott's ac­tions "im­posed an un­re­al­is­tic time­frame that was sim­ply not pos­si­ble with so many fac­tors that are out­side of nurs­ing home and as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties' con­trol.''

Fri­day's rul­ing won't end what could be a pro­tracted de­bate. Scott has al­ready or­dered two agen­cies to put in place per­ma­nent rules that mir­ror the emer­gency ones, although that process can take months. The gov­er­nor has also said he wants the Florida Leg­is­la­ture to put the man­date into state law.

Sev­eral leg­is­la­tors have al­ready filed bills that would re­quire nurs­ing homes to have gen­er­a­tors ca­pa­ble of pro­vid­ing power for sev­eral days.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF NWCABLE.NET

Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills

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