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At MDC, Congressional Field Hearing Looks For Federal Ways To Regulate Nursing Homes

panel of members of congress
Caitie Switalski
U.S. Reps., from left, Frederica Wilson, Henry Johnson and Lois Frankel questioned witnesses for what should be done to ensure disaster preparedness in the nursing home industry.

Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson organized a Congressional Field Hearing Thursday at Miami Dade College's North Campus to hear ideas for possible changes to nursing home regulations. 

She said she hopes to pass a federal law that would prevent future deaths after natural disasters, like hurricanes. She opened the discussion by making its purpose clear.

"You know,  we had a terrible tragedy in District 24 and we vowed that this will never ever happen again, never happen again," she said. 

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 14 patients died from a power outage after Hurricane Irma, is in Wilson's congressional district, which includes parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. 

A congressional hearing usually includes a panel of witnesses that members of Congress question. 

In this case, the panel consisted of eight people who work in emergency management, health care and health-care policy, mainly in Miami-Dade. Miami Fire Rescue Chief  Joseph Zahralban gave a statement, as did George Talledo, director of engineering for Miami Jewish Health Systems.

One Broward County commissioner, Dale Holness, was present.

Aside from discussing generators, the witnesses overwhelmingly asked the members of Congress to consider training and disaster planning when drafting  new legislation. Grants and loans to help long-term care facilities get up to par with generator requirements was also brought up.

Wilson organized the hearing among some of her fellow members of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. It's also known as the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Georgia Congressman Henry "Hank" Johnson flew into Miami for the hearing, as the top Democrat on the subcommittee. 

"This has become the new normal, disaster relief," he said. 

One thing that was not brought up by the panel at the hearing was an ombudsman. Wilson said she's considering changing that.

"No one brought up the ombudsman. The ombudsman is a position in Florida that I'm thinking about starting legislation so that we would have an ombudsman in every state," Wilson said. "And that particular person is put in place by the governor to oversee nursing homes [assisted living facilities]. They have a full staff, they have a travel budget and that's their job." 

However, former state long-term care facility ombudsman, Brian Lee disputes this.
"Every state already has a long-term care facility ombudsman," Lee said. 
Wilson said her next step for making any changes to how long-term-care facilities operate in an emergency will be analyzing the panel's recommendations before writing  any bills.

This story has been updated.

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