Some Texas lawmakers are pretty ticked off at senior living communities these days. Or at least the settings without backup power generators.
In fact, several fresh bills would require such devices going forward. The push comes in the wake of a freakishly cold storm that caused days-long power outages. More than 50 assisted living communities had to move out residents during and after Winter Storm Uri, according to the state’s long-term care ombudsman.
Typical of the new lawmaking is a House measure backed by State Rep. Ed Thompson (R), which requires a generator or another comparable backup power supply on-site. The mandate is being sold as a hedge against the need for similar resident evacuations in the future.
But given the additional costs associated with purchasing and installing backup generators, many operators remain fiercely opposed.
We saw a somewhat similar phenomenon play out in Florida in 2017, when Hurricane Irma caused many facilities to lose power. In the wake of that Category 5 storm, hundreds of nursing home residents perished. Many of the deaths were attributed to excessive heat.
So what is to be done here?
As with so many issues facing senior living operators today, this one is a math problem. Or to be more precise, an accounting problem. Generators cost money. And someone has to pay for them. Moreover, the timing for an expensive new mandate could hardly be worse.
Many operators have seen occupancy levels bottom out and other costs escalate, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And now they are going to be required to spend anywhere from $10,000 to more than $100,000 on backup generators? That is, to put it mildly, a big ask.
Then again, there are optics to consider. One of the key marketing messages many communities promote — both directly and indirectly — is that residents in their care will remain safe. Not sure whether the inability to provide heat or AC during a prolonged power outage squares with that promise.
Perhaps tax breaks or other incentives for communities are the best available option here. That strikes me as far better than two outcomes that are clearly in play: communities possibly closing, or an onslaught of wrongful death lawsuits.
Regardless, it looks like it’s going to be a hot summer in Texas. And we’re only in April.