HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, is spearheading an effort to pass legislation mandating every long-term care facility has a generator and adequate fuel supply following the deaths of eight people who lived at a nursing home in Hollywood.
"I am livid. We should all be besides ourselves," the congresswoman said about their deaths.
Elected officials, community members, and nursing home and assisted living facility representatives are pulling together to discuss change.
Wilson called a town hall meeting on Tuesday, where she talked about possible legislation that would protect senior citizens living in facilities during and after natural disasters.
"We want to make sure that every long-term care facility has a generator that’s powered, and if they do not have that generator, then someone needs to know that," Wilson said.
The town hall meeting came after the deaths of eight people at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after Hurricane Irma knocked out power and air conditioning to the facility.
"We failed to keep these vulnerable seniors safe from harm in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma when power and A/C units were not functioning as designed," State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Florida, said.
Ralph Marrinson told Local 10 News that he runs several senior care facilities in Wilton Manors, but never got the call to assist Hollywood Hills until after the tragedies had unfolded.
His facility has a mutual aid agreement with the nursing home under scrutiny, but never got a call before the deaths.
Gov. Rick Scott has since put an emergency order in place, requiring all facilities to equip themselves with generators and fuel for 96 hours following a storm.
Marrinson said that's quite an order for nursing homes to meet. He said he wants Florida Power and Light to address why he was out of power for a week for the first time in his more than 50 years in business.
"We were out during (Hurricane) Andrew. We came back the very next day," Marrinson said. "Wilma we were out for a little bit, and we came right back."
Florida has the highest population of senior citizens in the country, and the tragedy has also opened the eyes of people who have had to rely on others caring for their loved ones.
"It was a situation where, unfortunately, my family and I had to go every day to make sure that he was OK, because of the concerns we had," said concerned citizen Pat Thomas. "And it's a universal problem, I think, in terms of what's going on in terms of the care."
A task force will look at policies and measures at senior facilities and determine the best way to move forward with laws.
At least one family who has a relative living at the nursing home in Hollywood has hired an attorney following the patients' deaths.
Attorney Eugene Pettis is representing the family of Edna Craig-Jefferson, 88, who claim that the woman suffered multiple health problems at the facility.
Craig-Jefferson was removed from the nursing home and taken to a hospital after the deaths, as were all survivors.