Irma’s deadly af­ter­math

Six die at Florida nurs­ing home in wake of huge storm

The Niagara Falls Review - - WORLD NEWS - TIM REYNOLDS and TERRY SPENCER

HOL­LY­WOOD, Fla.— Six pa­tients at a swel­ter­ing nurs­ing home died in hur­ri­cane Irma’s af­ter­math, rais­ing fears Wed­nes­day about the safety of Florida’s 4 mil­lion se­nior cit­i­zens amid wide­spread power out­ages that could go on 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.” He did not elab­o­rate.

He said in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not ruled any­thing out, in­clud­ing car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing from gen­er­a­tors. The chief also said in­ves­ti­ga­tors will look into how many win­dows were open in the nurs­ing home, where the air con­di­tion­ing wasn’t work­ing.

“It’s a sad state of af­fairs,” Sanchez 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.”

Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida emer­gency work­ers to im­me­di­ately check on nurs­ing homes and as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties to make sure the pa­tients are safe. And he or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what he called an “un­fath­omable” sit­u­a­tion.

“I am de­mand­ing an­swers,” he tweeted.

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 wake, in­clud­ing tree-clear­ing ac­ci­dents and lethal fumes from gen­er­a­tors.

Not count­ing the nurs­ing home deaths, at least 13 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.

At least five peo­ple died and more than a dozen were treated af­ter breath­ing car­bon monox­ide fumes from gen­er­a­tors in the Orlando, Mi­ami and Day­tona Beach ar­eas. A Tampa man died af­ter the chain saw he was us­ing to re­move trees kicked back and cut his carotid artery.

In Hol­ly­wood, three pa­tients were found dead at the nurs­ing home early Wed­nes­day af­ter po­lice got a call about a per­son with a heart at­tack, and three more died at the hos­pi­tal or on the way, po­lice 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.

The air con­di­tion­ing was out, but Sanchez said it re­mained un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion whether power was en­tirely cut. He didn’t an­swer ques­tions re­gard­ing whether a gen­er­a­tor was run­ning inside the place.

Across the street from the nurs­ing home sat a fully air-con­di­tioned hos­pi­tal, Memo­rial Re­gional.

Nurs­ing homes in Florida are re­quired by state and fed­eral law to file an emer­gency plan that in­cludes evac­u­a­tion plans for res­i­dents. Any plan sub­mit­ted by the Hol­ly­wood cen­tre was not im­me­di­ately avail­able.

Calls to the owner and other of­fi­cials at the home were not im­me­di­ately re­turned. The fa­cil­ity was bought at a bank­ruptcy auc­tion two years ago af­ter its pre­vi­ous owner when 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 fives­tar scale. But the most-re­cent state in­spec­tion re­ports showed no de­fi­cien­cies in the area of emer­gency plans.

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.

As of Tues­day, the num­ber of peo­ple with­out elec­tric­ity in the steamy late-sum­mer heat had dropped to 9.5 mil­lion — just un­der half of Florida’s pop­u­la­tion. Util­ity of­fi­cials warned it could take 10 days or more for power to be fully re­stored. About 110,000 peo­ple re­mained in shel­ters across the state.

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.

In Marathon Key, a Publix gro­cery store opened un­der po­lice guard on Tues­day, but res­i­dents could buy only 20 items each, and no cig­a­rettes or al­co­hol al­lowed, said 70-year-old re­tiree Elaine Yaquinto.

She said she had yet to see any state or fed­eral agen­cies or util­ity com­pa­nies work­ing on the ground yet. Her home had no elec­tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter, apart from a trickle of cold wa­ter that was good enough for a shower.

“It made me feel like nor­mal,” she said.

AMY BETH BEN­NETT/AP

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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