Seniors fight post-Irma heat with Popsicles, compresses
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Florida seniors shuffled out of stifling assisted-living centers Thursday while caregivers fought a lack of air conditioning with Popsicles and cool compresses after eight people died at a nursing home in the posthurricane heat.
Dozens of the state’s senior centers still lacked electricity in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and several facilities were forced to evacuate. While detectives sought clues to the deaths, emergency workers went door to door to look for anyone else who was at risk.
‘Frankly, it’s very scary’
In one of the latest actions to protect older people, 57 residents were moved from a suburban Fort Lauderdale assistedliving facility without power to two nearby homes where power had been restored. Owner Ralph Marrinson said all five of his Florida facilities lost electricity after Irma. Workers scrambled to keep patients cool with emergency stocks of ice and Popsicles.
“FPL has got to have a better plan for power,” he said, referring to the state’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light. “We’re supposed to be on a priority list, and it doesn’t come and it doesn’t come, and frankly, it’s very scary.”
Stepped-up safety checks were conducted around the state after eight deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which shocked Florida’s top leaders as they surveyed destruction from the punishing storm. Meanwhile, the Justice Department announced task forces in Florida and Puerto Rico to investigate hurricane-related fraud.
Statewide, 64 nursing homes were still waiting Thursday for full power, according to the Florida Health Care Association. The separate Florida Assisted Living Association said many of its South Florida members lacked electricity.
A day earlier near Orlando, firefighters helped relocate 122 people from two assisted-living centers that had been without power since the storm. And at the 15,000-resident Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines, where there were also widespread outages, rescue workers went door to door to check on residents and bring ice, water and meals.
To the east, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation has been checking on elderly residents in their homes and felt a greater sense of urgency after the deaths. CEO Jacob Solomon said the group encouraged people to evacuate before the storm if they could, but now they’re focused on helping them in their homes.
“At this point, we’re better off taking care of them where they are. They didn’t leave then. They’re not going to leave now. What are you going to do? You go, you check on them, you make sure they have water and food and that’s it,” he said. “You’re not going to convince a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor to do something that she doesn’t want to do.”
Millions without power
Though the number of people with electricity has improved from earlier in the week, some 4.9 million people across the peninsula continued to wait for power. Utility officials warned it could take a week or more for all areas to be back up and running.
Including the nursing home deaths, at least 26 people in Florida have died under Irma-related circumstances, and six more in South Carolina and Georgia, many of them well after the storm passed. The death toll across the Caribbean stood at 38.
On Thursday, detectives were at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after receiving a search warrant to investigate the eight patients’ deaths, which police believed were heat-related.
The center said the hurricane knocked out a transformer that powered the air conditioning.
State records indicate the center showed deficiencies in maintaining fire and safety standards pertaining to exits and storage areas, as well as more serious problems with its generator maintenance.