Study finds need for generators in assisted living facilities

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 31-Aug-2010

State Rep. Joe Dorman said that today’s interim study showed a need for state government to require backup generators in assisted living facilities in Oklahoma.

“Today’s study showed that about a third of the 139 assisted living facilities in the state do not have a backup generator,” Dorman, a Rush Springs Democrat, said. “We also learned that moving residents to another facility or shelter in times of disaster is not the best way to look out for their safety. Though my intent is to work with all parties to ensure that we do not create a financial hardship for the assisted living facilities, I think it is clear that legislation is needed.”

Dorman said that the study was the result of a request by a constituent whose mother had been staying at a facility that experienced a power outage during an ice storm and did not have a generator in place. State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Esther Houser said during the study that the residents of these facilities are vulnerable to both hypothermia and hyperthermia and that “transfer trauma” can be deadly.

“Though we were fortunate to avoid any deaths associated with assisted living facilities during this past ice storm, the risk was there in facilities that chose to evacuate their residents,” Dorman said.  “I would certainly encourage persons looking at assisted living facilities to include the question on if a facility is prepared for power outages and disasters.”

Oklahoma Department of Health Long Term Care Service Assistant Chief Jim Buck said that his department had surveyed the 139 assisted living care facilities in the state and gotten back responses from 133. Of those, 89 had reported having a backup generator. Buck also said that the state does require every facility to have an evacuation plan and requires them to report accidental fires, storm damage and power outages lasting more than four hours.

Buck said that OSDH strongly supports onsite sheltering (“shelter in place” as opposed to the transfer of residents to another facility during a natural disaster.

Penny Ridenour, executive director of the Oklahoma Assisted Living Association, said that some of the assisted living facilities in the state had as few as 16 beds and would find the cost of purchasing a generator prohibitive. All facilities would likely pass the cost onto the consumer, she said.

Ridenour shared the story of one facility that adapted creatively to a power outage after recent storms, adapting a “shelter in place” approach that worked well for residents and staff. Staff at the facility used grills to prepare hot foods, and rented a generator that kept essential electrical service in place.

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK after the interim hearing, she expressed concerns over the cost implications of requiring use of generators.

In questions of witnesses and of Rep. Dorman, state Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City was critical of possible tax expenditures to finance purchase of generators.

Oklahoma State Fire Marshal Robert Doke noted that the low-end cost of a generator is around $20,000 but can quickly become much larger.

“There is a cost to providing this level of safety, but there is also the necessary cost for ensuring protection for the safety of the residents,” Dorman said. “I am looking at Maryland law as the model for what I might introduce as legislation, which requires generators for facilities with 50 beds or more and includes exemptions for facilities that can demonstrate financial hardship. Maryland is the only state in the nation which requires facilities have generators as back-up power according to the ‘Assisted Living State Regulatory Review, 2010’ published in March by the National Center for Assisted Living.

The study also analyzed requirements on disaster and evacuation plans in Oklahoma.  It was found that there is no requirement for such a plan, even though it is highly suggested by various state regulatory entities.

“I will certainly demand this be included in the legislation to require all facilities to have some type of disaster and evacuation plan filed with the local fire department closest to a facility,” said Dorman.  “I am confident that reasonable legislation can be created and I look forward to working with the various interested parties to find some solution which will be cost effective for the facilities and protect their vulnerable residents.”

Note: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.