Lack of Funds May Be at Root of Nursing Home Deaths

July 24, 2001
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DETROIT, MI — Air conditioning repairs at Northland Nursing Center here actually began almost two weeks before the June 13 to 15 heat wave that claimed the lives of three residents. Completion of the repairs, however, wasn’t scheduled until June 18, and was not moved up until after deaths occurred and the state ordered it.

According to Rick Stevens, a service technician for Arrow Heating and Cooling, he went to Northland around June 1 to start up the a/c system. He noted small leaks in the tower sump that needed to be fixed and two replacement parts needed to be ordered.

According to Stevens, Northland’s maintenance man was going to patch the leaks and Stevens would order the parts. The maintenance man was to call once he had finished patching, so Stevens could complete the repairs, Stevens said.

Stevens got the parts two days later, but he said he never received a phone call. He found out later that Northland had scheduled the job for June 18. When the weather got hot on June 13, the nursing home apparently did not expedite the repairs. On June 15, after Northland reported overnight deaths, state officials told the nursing home to make the repairs and get the system running immediately. Then Arrow was called, according to Stevens, and the system was in operation that evening.

Stevens said he didn’t know why the repairs were set for June 18 rather than doing them right away. But he noted that he has done work on several nursing homes and, he said, “A lot of these places don’t have much money.”

Regarding proposed state legislation requiring a/c in nursing homes, Stevens believes the cost would be prohibitive.

Northland officials could not be reached for comment.

Shortly after the Northland deaths, on July 10, State Senator George Hart (D-Dearborn) introduced a bill mandating air conditioning in nursing homes. (See The News, July 16, 2001, page 1.) Hart said that he already had this bill in the works because of the many heat-related deaths that have occurred in recent years around the country.

The bill is expected to come before the Senate Senior Citizens and Veterans Affairs Committee chaired by State Senator Mat Dunaskiss (R-Lake Orion). A spokeswoman for the senator said that he doesn’t think that air conditioning is a major policy issue and that this would be best left to the marketplace.

Hart said that he is also a member of the committee and that he would push to get the bill considered as soon as possible, venturing that it will “probably come up in the fall.” Hart said he will ask for state funding for implementation.

According to The News’ research, Rhode Island is the only state that currently has a law requiring nursing home air conditioning. Enacted on July 13, 2000, it states that if a/c is not provided in every room then it must be supplied in a common room or rooms. Other states have introduced bills, but none have passed.

The Code of Federal Regulations states that nursing homes “initially certified after October 1, 1990 must maintain a temperature range of 71¿ to 81¿F.” Although this appears to necessitate a/c, it doesn’t specifically require it. The majority of facilities in Michigan were certified prior to this date, so this regulation does not apply.

An attempt was made last year to get a federal law passed requiring nursing home air conditioning, but the bill stalled in committee.

Publication date: 07/23/2001

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