2017 was a year to be remembered for our Consulate care centers in Florida. No one will soon forget the impact of Hurricane Irma. A natural disaster that created stories of heroism and tragedy, triumph and despair, and one that would go on to raise months of speculation and questions about how one industry responded.

As the largest provider of skilled nursing and post-acute healthcare in the state of Florida, employing more than 11,000 employees and caring for more than 9,000 patients and residents, we have a lot to be proud of in 2017.  We improved our overall CMS 5 Star ratings, our direct care staffing by 10%, and our RN staffing by nearly 20%.  We raised the starting wages of CNAs to $10.40 per hour in all of our non-union and select union-affiliated care centers, making us the first and only provider to do so in Florida.  But we didn’t stop there, in 2017 our Florida care centers raised their quality measure 5 Star scores to 4.34, demonstrating in real time the quality care being provided to our residents.  Further, we have been successful in our efforts to become JCAHO accredited and we have received the Gold Seal of Approval from the Joint Commission in nearly half of our centers, with the remaining scheduled to be accredited by the end of Q1 2018.

But perhaps our greatest achievement was the heroic efforts by hundreds of Consulate team members to successfully evacuate more than 1,200 residents from 12 nursing homes across the state in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, and in the days that followed, safely returning them to their homes.

In a true partnership with Governor Rick Scott’s office, the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) and Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), Consulate safely navigated the largest single evacuation of Florida’s most frail and vulnerable citizens, which is the story that should be told.  In concert with the state and FHCA, Consulate was contacted to take in more than 50 displaced residents of a local nursing home whose Administrator walked out on them just hours before the storm reached us. Consulate rose to the challenge of safely evacuating someone else’s residents, cared for them like family through the storm and its aftermath, and returned them all safely home. Another story the media isn’t telling.

Sadly, one provider out of 683 nursing homes in the state did not have the same outcomes. The tragic loss of life at a South Florida rehabilitation center was unimaginable, and as a provider we mourn those losses, as we know far too well how precious the gift of human life is. What shouldn’t go unrecognized are the thousands of successful evacuations and repopulations that took place and the heroes that made them happen.

There are certain media outlets and industry outsiders that have suggested in recent months and weeks that the tragedies resulting in the loss of life are somehow correlated to the average ratings awarded to a center through the CMS 5 Star Rating system.  To do so represents a complete lack of understanding around the 5 star rating system and the bearing it has on a skilled nursing center’s ability to safely care for and protect its residents when a disaster strikes.

While we fully support Governor Scott’s mission to find better solutions to make sure that our elderly are protected in the future, and while we will never forget the unfortunate loss of life, the story of Consulate in 2017 should be how with great leadership, and even greater staff, we brought 82 care centers and more than 9,000 residents safely through the storm.

We have so many great stories to tell because of the hearts and hands of so many talented and dedicated members of our team. Consulate’s story just keeps getting better. Follow our stories on Facebook and Twitter or at CHIRPsocial