Maryland Nursing Homes Demand Higher Priority for Power Restoration During Outages

Power outages across the east coast in the wake of Hurricane Irene left many Maryland nursing homes without electricity for five to eight days in late August. In all, about 800,000 people experienced power loss due to the hurricane, which caused billions of dollars of property damage and cost at least one life. We have previously commented on the risks posed to nursing home residents in Maryland from flooding and other natural disasters. The extent and length of recent power outages create perhaps an even greater risk to resident safety, considering the dependence of so many on medical devices and monitoring equipment. An overhaul of power restoration procedures, as well as an examination of nursing homes’ plans for dealing with power outages, are crucial to protecting the safety of nursing home residents.

Maryland citizens, nursing home advocates, and nursing home administrators are all calling on the state to review the system of power restoration after natural disasters. Power outages forced closures of businesses and schools across the state, and made it difficult for people to both evacuate and return home. The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), the state agency tasked with regulating utility companies, has opened an investigation into the performance of Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) during and after the storm. BGE created a stir when it announced that the $81 million it spent restoring power may lead to higher rates on services in the future. The PSC must approve any rate increase.

BGE and other utilities use a priority system to manage power restoration, focusing first on public safety, including hospitals, and critical infrastructure such as pumping stations. Nursing home representatives and others are asking that nursing homes receive the same priority as hospitals, since they serve very similar functions for their residents. A nursing home administrator testified to the PSC that “today’s nursing homes closely resemble hospitals in caring for medically complex patients, using the same type of equipment, like ventilators, G-tubes, breathing machines and dialysis machines.” In an order issued on October 31, the PSC has asked BGE and other utility companies to draft new implementation plans based on the experience of Irene, to collaborate in finding a way to reliably inform customers of when to expect power restoration, and to notify the PSC of the protocols used to determine priority for power restoration. The PSC hopes to create consolidated procedures for future hurricanes and other disasters.

Nursing homes must maintain a backup generator in case of emergencies, but some critical medical equipment may not run as effectively on backup power. Residents, prospective residents, and their loved ones and guardians should know what capacity a nursing home has for backup power in case of a severe power outage. Natural disasters of one type or another can interrupt even the best contingency plans, but nursing home administrators must make every reasonable effort to prevent interruptions in vital services to their residents.

Nursing home residents have rights under the law to a safe and attentive environment for their care. The Maryland nursing home lawyers of Lebowitz and Mzhen protect those rights against threats of abuse and neglect. Contact the firm today to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation to discuss your case.

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More Blog Posts:

October is Long-term Care Residents’ Rights Month in Maryland and around the Country, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, October 19, 2011
Dementia Patient’s Wandering Leads to Death—Nursing Home Fined $20K for Negligence, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, June 6, 2011
District of Columbia Sued for Failing Disabled Nursing Home Patients, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, December 24, 2010
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