Nursing homes remain in the dark four days after Hurricane Hermine [Updated]

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Residents of two Tallahassee nursing homes languished without electricity Monday, relying on generators to power cooling and critical medical equipment four days after Hurricane Hermine left most of the city in the dark.

“When I drive down Capital Circle and see that McDonald’s has power and two of our nursing centers don’t have power, it’s concerning,” said Kristin Knapp, spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, the trade group representing nursing homes.

Two nursing homes have come back online within the past two days, Knapp said. But the Seven Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center and Heritage Health Care of Tallahassee, both located off the city’s ring road, remained unconnected.

“We have been told by the mayor’s office that there is a problem with that grid and it’s taking longer to restore it,” Knapp said.

Meanwhile, “they’re operating off generators for electrical service. These are massive generators, industrial-type generators” that have to be refueled every six hours, Knapp said.

Good enough for the basics — air conditioning, oxygen and dialysis equipment, refrigerating medications. But one nursing home had to send its laundry out to Thomasville, Ga.

“We’re talking about elderly people, so we have to keep them cool,” she said.

Knapp expressed frustration at the situation. She’d been under the impression that, since the last time hurricanes hit or affected Florida in 2004 and 2005, state and local officials understood that nursing homes full of the frail and elderly would be a top priority.

“Our next step is to ensure we have a seat at the table, and that everybody understands that nursing centers are a priority — that this doesn’t happen again.”

Steve Bahmer, president and chief executive officer of LeadingAge Florida, voiced similar concerns. His organization represents continuing care retirement communities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.

He praised Gov. Rick Scott and local authorities for keeping nursing home administrators updated, and electrical line workers “for the hours of hard work they have put in over the past 72 hours.”

“We realize the countless difficult issues to deal with in the aftermath of a hurricane, but our vulnerable seniors should be among the highest priorities with regard to recovery efforts,” Bahmer said.

“However, as we move beyond this situation and prepare for the future, we will continue to stress the importance of prioritizing the needs of our seniors to our community leaders,” he said.

As for staff at the nursing homes, Knapp said: “Everyone is in good spirits. This is what they do — it’s a calling for these people.”

And the patients? “They seem to be doing OK,” Knapp said. “It’s a disruption. This is their home. When they got the generators up, they were much happier. It makes a big difference for people.”

Update: Power has been restored to the Seven Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center, FHCA spokeswoman Kristin Knapp said at about 6:20 p.m.

Update: Heritage Health Care of Tallahassee has been reconnected to the grid, Knapp said at around 7 p.m. But she offered a clarification.

As with Seven Hills, “they are hooked up but still operating the generator because it is a major undertaking to transition off the large generator back to normal power. Both begin that transition early tomorrow morning,” she said.

“But as it stands, they appear to be connected to power again, it’s just different than what we would have at home with a flick then the lights are on.”

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Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.