Citing the deaths of seniors at a nursing home in Florida after Hurricane Irma, and a viral photograph of seniors in waist deep water at a facility in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, a U.S. Senate committee was urged on Wednesday to support stronger regulations for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to better protect older Americans during hurricanes, floods, and other emergencies and natural disasters.
"We need generators to support medical needs and air conditioning to cool reasonable temperatures, as well as fuel," said Kathryn Hyer, a professor at the University of South Florida's School of Aging Studies.
Hyer said her past research has shown that it is better for seniors at nursing homes and assisted living facilities to shelter-in-place, rather than go through evacuations during hurricanes - as she told the Senate Special Committee on Aging that better planning is needed for those facilities.
"Nursing homes and assisted living must be built in places that minimize flooding, and they have to be built to standards that allow administrators to shelter-in-place, if at all possible," Hyer added.
The Senate hearing came as finger pointing continued in the Sunshine State over who was to blame for the deaths of nine seniors at a Broward County, Florida nursing home, after Hurricane Irma caused widespread power outages in southern Florida.
"Older citizens should not suffer for days and then die, in the unbearable heat," said Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA).
"So many of us were both outraged and enraged when we saw what happened in Florida," Casey added.
"We must ask ourselves, can we better protect the most vulnerable members of our communities?" asked Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
The hearing was convened as Hurricane Maria was bearing down on the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico.
"We have a big one going right now," President Donald Trump said of the storm during a meeting at the United Nations with the King of Jordan.
"I've never seen winds like this - in Puerto Rico," Mr Trump said. "You take a look at what's happening there, and it's just one after another.
"But I think we are doing a good job," the President added about the federal response.
Overnight, the storm raced just to the south of St. Croix, sparing that part of the U.S. Virgin Islands from serious devastation, though widespread damage was being reported.
Back to the east, there were still few reports from the island of Dominica, which suffered a direct hit from Maria on Monday night.
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