Pasco County commissioners are discussing the possibility of imposing new fees to help protect patients in licensed health care facilities when hurricanes threaten or hit.
Although Hurricane Irma was a less destructive storm than many feared as it blew through the Tampa Bay region, it revealed potential problems in protecting, evacuating and sheltering patients in licensed health care facilities.
County staff provided a preview of a proposal to address those issues at a Jan. 30 workshop with commissioners in Dade City. Representatives of Florida Health Pasco County and Medical Center of Trinity attended, too.
Recommendations include training exercises, drills and hiring a full-time operations coordinator.
And, there are ongoing discussions on how to fund all of this.
County officials favor collecting an annual fee per bed, ranging from just under $12 to slightly more than $14.
Preliminary estimates show the county has more than 6,200 beds. Most are in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and hospitals.
A second option would be an annual fee per facility ranging from about $864 to more than $914.
Pasco would like to hire the operations coordinator by this spring.
Initially, health care providers could be asked to make voluntary contributions until a fee schedule is approved.
The county’s operations coordinator would serve as liaison between Pasco, the state health department and licensed facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living establishments, hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.
“We have to have one person who is dedicated to this,” said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco’s assistant county administrator for public safety. “We just don’t have that.”
The county’s emergency management department reviews and approves emergency plans prepared by those facilities. There is much to consider.
State and federal laws apply to health care providers and their emergency readiness.
For example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, set new rules for patient safety during emergencies for a list of 17 categories of Medicare and Medicaid providers. Those took effect in November 2017.
The list includes hospitals, hospices, transplant centers, home health agencies and community mental health centers.
The county also has other rules that come under review.
Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency order after 14 nursing home patients in Hollywood died after a power failure at their nursing home. The governor’s order requires health care providers have generators and fuel to last four days.
The same rule applies whether the facility has six beds or 400.
“It’s going to be some of the smaller units that struggle and need help,” said Devin Sommise, director of engineering and facilities for the Medical Center of Trinity.
Pasco has as many as 26 shelters available for emergencies. Many are based in area high schools and middle schools.
As Hurricane Irma approached, some nursing homes evacuated patients to shelters.
But, there were problems.
According to Guthrie, 15-passenger vans would show up at a shelter “just dropping off people at the door step.”
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore said at least one nursing home didn’t have enough staff to transport patients from a shelter back to the nursing home.
“It was disappointing they didn’t staff to get their patients back,” he said.
Pasco County Sheriff’s office stepped in and brought passenger vans to pick the patients up, Moore added.
“Somebody from the facility should have to stay with them,” said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
The county’s proposal would focus on developing a communication plan to prevent similar occurrences.
If the new job position is approved, duties would include reviewing, but not writing, emergency plans for health care facilities in Pasco, as well as facilitating eight exercise events and six training courses.
“Everyone has to have a plan. Everyone has to execute it,” said Sommise. “How are you getting these people out? Show me.”
Published February 14, 2018