Irma’s deadly af­ter­math

Eight die at Florida nurs­ing home in wake of huge storm

Kingston Whig-Standard - - WORLD NEWS - TIM REYNOLDS and TERRY SPENCER

HOL­LY­WOOD, Fla. — Eight pa­tients at a swel­ter­ing nurs­ing home died af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma knocked out the air con­di­tion­ing, rais­ing fears Wed­nes­day about the safety of Florida’s 4 mil­lion se­nior cit­i­zens amid power out­ages that could last for days.

Hol­ly­wood Po­lice Chief Tom Sanchez said in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve the deaths at the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills were heat re­lated, and added :“The build­ing has been sealed off and we are con­duct­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida emer­gency work­ers to im­me­di­ately check on all nurs­ing homes to make sure pa­tients are safe, and he vowed to pun­ish any­one found cul­pa­ble in the deaths.

“This sit­u­a­tion is un­fath­omable,” he said.

The home said in a state­ment that the hur­ri­cane had knocked out a trans­former that pow­ered the AC.

The five women and three men ranged in age from their 70s to 99.

Ex­actly how the deaths hap­pened was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with Sanchez say­ing author­i­ties have not ruled any­thing out, in­clud­ing car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing from gen­er­a­tors. He also said in­ves­ti­ga­tors will look into how many win­dows were open.

Across the street from the sti­fling nurs­ing home sat a fully air­con­di­tioned hos­pi­tal, Memo­rial Re­gional.

Broward County said the nurs­ing home had alerted the county emer­gency op­er­a­tions cen­tre on Tues­day that it had lost power, but when asked if it had any med­i­cal needs or emer­gen­cies, it did not re­quest help. “It’s a sad state of af­fairs,” the po­lice chief said. “We all have el­derly peo­ple in fa­cil­i­ties, and we all know we de­pend on those peo­ple in those fa­cil­i­ties to care for a vul­ner­a­ble el­derly pop­u­la­tion.”

The deaths came as peo­ple try­ing to put their lives back to­gether in hur­ri­cane-stricken Florida and be­yond con­fronted a mul­ti­tude of new haz­ards in the storm’s af­ter­math, in­clud­ing tree-clear­ing ac­ci­dents and lethal gen­er­a­tor fumes.

Not count­ing the nurs­ing home deaths, at least 17 peo­ple in Florida have died un­der Irma-re­lated cir­cum­stances, and six more in South Carolina and Ge­or­gia, many of them well af­ter the storm had passed. The death toll across the Caribbean stood at 38.

At least six peo­ple died of ap­par­ent car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing from gen­er­a­tors in Florida. A Tampa man died af­ter the chain saw he was us­ing to re­move trees re­coiled and cut his carotid artery.

In Hol­ly­wood, four pa­tients were found dead at the nurs­ing home early Wed­nes­day af­ter emer­gency work­ers re­ceived a call about a per­son with a heart at­tack, and four more died later at the hos­pi­tal, author­i­ties said.

Al­to­gether, more than 100 pa­tients there were found to be suf­fer­ing in the heat and were evac­u­ated, many on stretch­ers or in wheel­chairs. Pa­tients were treated for de­hy­dra­tion, breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and other heat-re­lated ills, author­i­ties said.

Nurs­ing homes in Florida are re­quired by state and fed­eral law to file an emer­gency plan that in­cludes evac­u­a­tion plans for res­i­dents. County of­fi­cials re­leased doc­u­ments show­ing that the Hol­ly­wood fa­cil­ity was in com­pli­ance with that reg­u­la­tion and that it held a hur­ri­cane drill with its staff in Oc­to­ber.

Calls to the owner and other of­fi­cials at the Hol­ly­wood home were not im­me­di­ately re­turned, but the fa­cil­ity’s ad­min­is­tra­tor, Jorge Ca­ballo, said in a state­ment that it was “co-op­er­at­ing fully with rel­e­vant author­i­ties to in­ves­ti­gate the cir­cum­stances that led to this un­for­tu­nate and tragic out­come.”

Through a rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Car­ballo told the Sun Sen­tinel news­pa­per that the home has a back-up gen­er­a­tor but that it does not power the air con­di­tion­ing.

The nurs­ing home was bought at a bank­ruptcy auc­tion two years ago af­ter its pre­vi­ous owner went to prison for Medi­care fraud, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports at the time of the sale.

The Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices, which reg­u­lates nurs­ing homes, gives the Hol­ly­wood cen­tre a be­low-av­er­age rat­ing, two stars on its five-star scale. But the most re­cent state in­spec­tion re­ports showed no de­fi­cien­cies in the area of emer­gency plans.

Broward County Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Dr. Craig Mal­lak said af­ter re­ceiv­ing some of the bod­ies for au­top­sies that the vic­tims had been in poor health, and “it’s go­ing to be tough to tell how much was the heat and how much of it was they were sick al­ready.”

Florida, long one of Amer­ica’s top re­tire­ment des­ti­na­tions, has the high­est pro­por­tion of peo­ple 65 and older of any state — 1 in 5 of its 20 mil­lion res­i­dents. As of 2016, Florida had about 680 nurs­ing homes.

The num­ber of peo­ple with­out elec­tric­ity in the steamy late-sum­mer heat was down to 6.8 mil­lion. Util­ity of­fi­cials warned it could take over a week for power to be fully re­stored. The num­ber of peo­ple in shel­ters fell to un­der 13,000.

In the bat­tered Florida Keys, mean­while, county of­fi­cials pushed back against a pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mate from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency that 25 per cent of all homes in the Keys were de­stroyed and nearly all the rest were heav­ily dam­aged.

“Things look real dam­aged from the air, but when you clear the trees and all the de­bris, it’s not much dam­age to the houses,” said Mon­roe County Com­mis­sioner Heather Car­ruthers.

The Keys felt Irma’s full fury when the hur­ri­cane roared in on Sun­day with 209 km/h winds. But the ex­tent of the dam­age has been an unan­swered ques­tion for days be­cause some places have been un­reach­able.


A woman is trans­ported from The Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills on Wed­nes­day as pa­tients are evac­u­ated af­ter a loss of air con­di­tion­ing due to hur­ri­cane Irma in Hol­ly­wood, Fla. Sev­eral pa­tients at the swel­ter­ing nurs­ing home died in the hur­ri­cane’s af­ter­math.

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