The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: City gets pushback on generator proposal for care facilities

By Sallie James

The Boca Raton City Council this month is expected to consider an ordinance to require permanent emergency generators in nursing homes, able to power the facilities for up to 96 hours.

But the executive director from one elder-care facility says it goes too far.

Kevin Wrenne, executive director of the 125-bed Banyan Place, at 2950 NW Fifth Ave., said the proposed ordinance has two major flaws: It requires the installation of diesel-powered generators and disallows cleaner-burning natural gas; and it requires the emergency generator to power 100 percent of a facility’s electrical systems during an emergency.

Wrenne said city officials seem agreeable to amending the ordinance to allow natural gas. But they seem less willing to revise the 100 percent requirement in regard to electrical systems.

“They don’t want to move on that,” Wrenne said. “We have an irrigation system that draws a lot of electricity and it’s certainly not needed in an emergency. We have a lot of exterior lighting. We have a 300-KW generator that covers emergency lighting which covers every other light. There isn’t a building [in the city] that’s compliant with the city’s proposed ordinance, including Boca Regional Hospital.

“The ordinance says 100 percent of the electrical systems. It creates a whole bunch of questions that no one can answer,” he added.

There are 13 elder-care facilities in Boca Raton that will be affected by the city’s ordinance if it is approved, Wrenne said.

“My concern is that it goes way beyond the question of life safety and it goes beyond convenience,” Wrenne said. “To just make a statement and say that it’s going to be a requirement doesn’t seem reasonable.”

The ordinance was introduced in November after nursing home residents at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County died in sweltering heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the facility when it struck on Sept. 10. The tragedy — eventually 14 residents of the home died — put a spotlight on the need for more comprehensive emergency backup plans in facilities that serve frail and elderly people.

Boca Raton’s proposal got the nod of approval from the city’s Planning and Zoning Board in October and would apply to adult congregate living facilities, nursing homes and convalescent centers. The new emergency generators would have to be installed by June.

The purpose of the proposal is to ensure the retirement facilities are “self-reliant in the event of an emergency such as a hurricane event where there could be an extended time period with a loss of power,” according to a city memo.

The emergency generator requirement has not been without controversy.

Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency order requiring elder-care facilities to upgrade their generator systems by mid-November. But a judge ruled in October that the deadline was unrealistic and hundreds of facilities missed the deadline, according to published reports. 

The facilities were initially ordered to upgrade within 60 days or face fines of $1,000 a day. 

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