In­ves­ti­ga­tion re­veals de­tails of deaths at re­hab cen­ter

New rules to re­quire backup AC sys­tems

Albuquerque Journal - - NATION -

HOL­LY­WOOD, Fla. — The first 911 call from the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills didn’t sound omi­nous: A nurs­ing home pa­tient had an ab­nor­mal heart­beat.

An hour later, a se­cond call came: a pa­tient had trou­ble breath­ing. Then came the third call. A pa­tient had gone into car­diac ar­rest — and died.

Over the next few hours of Wed­nes­day morn­ing, the dire sit­u­a­tion at the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter for frag­ile, el­derly peo­ple would come into clearer view. Three days af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma hit Florida, the cen­ter still didn’t have air con­di­tion­ing, and it ul­ti­mately be­came the grimmest tragedy in a state al­ready full of them. Eight peo­ple died and 145 pa­tients had to be moved out of the sti­fling-hot fa­cil­ity.

Au­thor­i­ties launched a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion to fig­ure out what went wrong and who, if any­one, was to blame. Within hours of the tragedy, Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son made no ef­fort to hide their anger and frus­tra­tion that some­thing like this could hap­pen.

On Satur­day, Scott or­dered the di­rec­tors of the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Depart­ment of El­der Af­fairs to is­sue emer­gency rules to keep res­i­dents safe in health care fa­cil­i­ties dur­ing emer­gen­cies.

The rules re­quire all as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties and nurs­ing homes to ob­tain am­ple re­sources, in­clud­ing gen­er­a­tors and fuel to main­tain com­fort­able tem­per­a­tures for at least 96 hours fol­low­ing a power out­age.

“The scene on site when I got there was chaotic,” said Randy Katz, Me­mo­rial’s emer­gency ser­vices di­rec­tor.

The Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter said the hur­ri­cane knocked out a trans­former that pow­ered the air con­di­tion­ing. The cen­ter said in a de­tailed time­line of events re­leased Fri­day that it re­peat­edly was told by Florida Power and Light that it would fix the trans­former, but the util­ity did not show up un­til Wed­nes­day morn­ing, hours af­ter the first pa­tients be­gan hav­ing emer­gen­cies.

The util­ity re­fused to an­swer any spe­cific ques­tions about the nurs­ing home case.

State and lo­cal of­fi­cials said the nurs­ing home had con­tacted them but did not re­quest any help for med­i­cal needs or emer­gen­cies.

Paulburn Bogle, a mem­ber of the house­keep­ing staff, said em­ploy­ees fought the lack of air con­di­tion­ing with fans, cold tow­els, ice and cold drinks for pa­tients.

Owner Jack Michel’s at­tor­ney didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

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