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Florida Nursing Homes Stay Up And Running Amid Power Outages


Power is still out for millions of people throughout Florida. And that includes more than 150 nursing homes across the state. Kristen Knapp is with the Florida Health Care Association, which represents long-term care providers in Florida. She's been fielding calls from nursing homes since before Irma hit. Thanks for talking with us.

KRISTEN KNAPP: Sure. Thanks for having me today.

SHAPIRO: Nursing homes are required by Florida law to have generators for situations like this. So what is the problem right now for nursing homes that have lost power?

KNAPP: Well, first, they're not required to have generators. They're required to have emergency power backup. However, I don't know of any nursing home that doesn't have a generator. There was a lot of lessons learned from storms back in 2004, 2005. We saw multiple hurricanes come through, one right after the other. So everyone that we're talking to has a generator. Right now we have about 168 nursing homes that are without power. They're on generator. The biggest challenge right now is making sure that they have adequate fuel supply to run those generators.

SHAPIRO: And in some cases, I imagine, this is a case of life and death with ventilators and such.

KNAPP: Sure. So you've got - you know, nursing homes care for very complex, medically fragile individuals who require oxygen. Some are on ventilators. They have medications that need to be refrigerated. Just, you know, frail elders. Temperatures here in Florida - we're still - you know, in some areas - I mean, today, I'm in North Florida, and the high is 82. So, you know, keeping them comfortable - all of that is critical to their care needs. So making sure that they have that backup generator power to help make sure that they're comfortable and cared for is really important.

SHAPIRO: So what sorts of difficult decisions are nursing homes in Florida making right now?

KNAPP: Well, right now the priority in working with our partners at the state emergency operation center is to get power restored as quickly as possible. So things that they're dealing - you know, if - we're looking at, you know, if there is a facility on a generator who might have ventilator patients, for example, they're looking at their fuel supply, looking at what they have been told in terms of how long it may be to have that power restored. They're looking at potentially having to evacuate those residents to an alternative place that has power.

SHAPIRO: Are alternative places with power already overcrowded? Is there room to evacuate people?

KNAPP: Well, what happens - the process in Florida - what happens is that nursing homes identify if they have available beds. That was part of the process leading up to Irma making landfall. So it's the same situation now post-storm. So if there's a case where you don't think you can safely care for your residents because you're concerned about power being out for an extended period of time, you're looking to those other facilities in your area to see where you might be able to place those residents who have critical needs like ventilators.

SHAPIRO: On the whole, how did nursing homes come through the storm?

KNAPP: Well, we saw a little over 60 nursing homes that had to evacuate, about 280 assisted-living facilities. The majority of it went very smoothly. Some of the challenges that we saw were because the storm track just changed so rapidly. And, you know, we looked at an east coast impact initially. And those facilities were looking to evacuate. And then all of a sudden, we saw west coast impact and the potential storm surges there, you know, requiring facilities that might've been actually what would be called a receiving facility, where facilities evacuated to that building. We saw some then having to evacuate again and go into, for example, special needs shelters because the storm surge - as a result of the shift in the storm's track.

SHAPIRO: That's Kristen Knapp of the Florida Health Care Association. Thanks for your time.

KNAPP: Sure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.