Response to Herald-Tribune Editor’s Request Regarding Hurricane Irma

IMG_4406(2)I am responding to the October 17, 2017 Editor’s request “to hear from customers about their power restoration times” from the outages caused by hurricane Irma. 

 Alderman Oaks Retirement Center in downtown Sarasota experienced a power outage of four days.  I also testify for many, if not most, Assisted Living owners and operators in Florida that we have been forced by the governor to jump through endless hoops and expenses present and future.  His edict has unreasonable-impossible deadlines, and incorrigible threats of $1000/day fines to provide new generators corresponding with a time almost precisely at the end of the hurricane season.  

May I suggest three ways that FPL neglected to protect vulnerable seniors.  Proper preparation and planning obviously had not taken place prior to this storm. 

Let me elaborate on three things that were plain to see.  The first is the inadequate physical preparation for Irma.  A major lawsuit against FPL is in play in Miami-Dade about this matter.  The suit alleges that FPL has been charging every customer (this includes Sarasota) monthly fees for restoration services since 2008 which allegedly were not provided.  Locally, my experience was that less than two hundred feet of underground service to my property in downtown Sarasota would have avoided the very stressful outages that our senior citizens experienced.  By the way, I was required to have underground service on my property twenty years ago. FPL had 20 years to do the same!

 This brings up my second issue concerning power restoration. It is obvious that priorities for recovery of service after a storm had not adequately been established prior to the storm.  It took seniors dying in a Hollywood, Florida Nursing Home for the “powers that be” to get into action to restore power for the most-needy of our population.  (This Nursing Home in Hollywood was across the street from a hospital and had a Nursing Home mandated generator!).  Alderman Oaks made many calls to FPL only to get a recording that “all service in the area would be restored” some three weeks out.  When the “powers that be” finally got into gear, it appears that for fear of the political and legal repercussions, FPL showed up.  It took two FPL workers one half hour to restore power at Alderman Oaks.  One work-hour if proper priorities were in place could have avoided immense stress and effort for 4 days for 70 people.

The third aspect concerning power restoration was referenced in the paragraph above.  With the responsibility for many lives, assisted living facility administrators were only able to get that recording which became quite offensive, “all service in the area will be restored” some three weeks out. Administrators lacked the information from FPL that was required for many necessary life-safety decisions.  In retrospect FPL should have established a system of communication before the storm.   For the Nursing Home and Assisted Living industries, a representative of FPL, up to speed with actual restorative operations, should have been in communication with an industry representative. To save FPL time this representative could have then been a center for real answers for the various operators of facilities.

 Where does the buck stop in the State of Florida?  Does it stop somewhere at FPL?  The hoops that the Assisted Living industry is jumping through now at a hectic pace should have been addressed long ago.  FPL should have been required to make proper verified preparations.  Yes, our industry should have addressed back-up power issues with due diligence and consideration of effective use of dollars.  As it is, our whole industry is in turmoil for what seems to be political interests.  Why else would a former businessman make such draconian and expensive edicts with so little input from the industry or planning involved?   You know there are problems with regulations when those who claim to be “for the people” swarm to “help” you.  I like to say “a thought is generally not a plan”.

A friend and industry leader told me this morning that it appears our governor is trying to pass his failure on to us.  In hurricane terms the governor’s response and prior failure to assure proper preparations should be his “high-water mark” in politics.  I for one think it would be a good experience for the governor to pay for things out of his own pocket again.  As a Trump supporter, what regulations did he eliminate in our industry.  Is he not supposed to eliminate two regulations for each one he adds?

Darwin Blix
Executive Director, Alderman Oaks Retirement Center
Masters and Bachelors Chemical Engineering, Cornell University
Dow Chemical Company (3yrs) Economic Evaluation Dept.
30 years General Contractor “State A” license
Last 20 years owner and Administrator of Alderman Oaks Retirement Center


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