AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds of Texas nursing homes and assisted living facilities have generators on-site for backup power, but hundreds still do not, according to a survey conducted by Texas Health and Human Services.

In the months following the 2021 winter storm, KXAN spoke with families of residents who died in long-term care facilities during the freeze. Lawmakers and advocates worked to address problems that led to days-long power outages in some of these homes housing vulnerable Texans.

One proposal to require generator installation in these facilities failed, but lawmakers instead decided to send out a survey in order to get a better idea of what backup power sources already exist.

  • Explore the survey results here

The survey revealed 99% of nursing homes that responded to the survey had a generator, and 47% of responding assisted living facilities reported having them.

According to the report, state law does not require assisted living facilities to have a generator, while new nursing facilities have faced that requirement since 1996. Federal law has also required generators in new nursing facility buildings since 2016.

When asked why more than half of responding assisted living facilities don’t use generators, the Vice President of Public Policy for the Texas Assisted Living Association Carmen Tilton said she believed high costs and location constraints specific to assisted living were major factors.

Tilton said many assisted living facilities are located in residential neighborhoods that may have homeowners’ association rules. Meanwhile, these properties are still considered health care facilities and therefore must abide by National Fire Protection Association standards — meaning “if a generator is located outside of the building, it must be in its own separate fire resistant protective structure” and if it is “located inside the building, it must be in a separate closed off space with fire rated walls/doors and specialty ventilation,” she said.

Tilton went on to say facilities in some parts of the state had contradictory risks to consider, such as tornados or wildfires, that could be complicated by having a large on-site fuel tank and generator. She also noted many of the facility operators she spoke with expressed interest in installing generators or backup power, but supply chain issues were slowing them down.

These are all considerations and conversations State Rep. Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) said he wants to have with industry leaders and experts next year. He brought forward the original bill and said the survey proved to be “enlightening.”

After the survey results were released, the representative said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of homes that reported having generators, but said there was still work to be done.

In the survey, facility operators with generators were asked to indicate which systems it powered. Most facilities answered that their generators powered emergency evacuation equipment, such as emergency lighting, exit signs and fire alarm system. Less than 60% of facilities responded that their generators served air conditioning equipment or heating equipment.

Tilton confirmed more facilities likely prioritize emergency evacuation systems, because state regulation and fire protection rules require these kinds of systems to be hard-wired to a power source. Additionally, residents at assisted living facilities can be evacuated more easily than those in a nursing facility.

  • A screengrab from the results of HHSC's generator survey for long-term care facilities.
  • A screengrab from the results of HHSC's generator survey for long-term care facilities.

Assisted living facilities “faced with a prolonged outage are going to evacuate if they need to,” she explained, adding these operations are already required to have emergency preparedness and evacuation plans in place.

“I think assisted living communities, much like all Texas residents and businesses, are still working through the best way to appropriately respond the risk of an extended blackout,” Tilton said.

Thompson said he did not want to be “overly onerous” for facilities, as a small business owner himself, but said it was important to “do the best we can for as many people as we can.”

He told KXAN he plans to re-submit the bill this fall for consideration during the 88th legislative session, but the filing would likely look a bit different. He believes the survey will help in crafting better legislation the second time around.

“I’m willing to work with anybody, anytime, anyway,” he said.