Post-storm out­age blamed for 8 nurs­ing home deaths

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­trick J. McDon­nell and Kur­tis Lee

HOL­LY­WOOD, Fla. — Hur­ri­cane Irma has moved on, but its af­ter­math con­tin­ued to rav­age Florida on Wed­nes­day, as au­thor­i­ties said eight pa­tients died in a swel­ter­ing nurs­ing home that the storm had left with lim­ited power.

The vic­tims were five women and three men who ranged in age from 71 to 99, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

The deaths at the fa­cil­ity in Hol­ly­wood, just north of Mi­ami, drew out­rage across a state with a large pop­u­la­tion of se­niors — and where hun­dreds of thou­sands re­main with­out elec­tric­ity as a re­sult of the hur­ri­cane that swept across the state be­gin­ning Sun­day.

Many Florida res­i­dents lack­ing elec­tric­ity in their homes have moved in with friends or rel­a­tives or sought ho­tels with air con­di­tion­ing as tem­per­a­tures soared above 90 de­grees.

Mean­while, a num­ber of other post-hur­ri­cane deaths were re­ported from a va­ri­ety of fac­tors, in­clud­ing toxic fumes from gen­er­a­tors and at least one fa­tal chain-saw ac­ci­dent as res­i­dents sought to clear storm-blow brush

from their prop­er­ties.

Au­thor­i­ties said a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion had be­gun af­ter more than 100 pa­tients were evac­u­ated from the Hol­ly­wood nurs­ing home and a neigh­bor­ing fa­cil­ity, many on stretch­ers and in wheel­chairs.

“I’m go­ing to ag­gres­sively de­mand an­swers on how this tragic event took place,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a state­ment. “Al­though the de­tails of th­ese re­ported deaths are still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, this sit­u­a­tion is un­fath­omable.”

The deaths at the nurs­ing home, known as the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Center at Hol­ly­wood Hills, may have been re­lated to the loss of air con­di­tion­ing, Hol­ly­wood Po­lice Chief To­mas Sanchez told re­porters.

“We be­lieve at this time they may be re­lated to the loss of power in the storm,” he said. “We’re con­duct­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, not rul­ing any­thing out at this time.”

The air con­di­tion­ing at the fa­cil­ity was out, Sanchez said, but it re­mained un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion whether power was en­tirely cut. He de­clined to an­swer when asked if a gen­er­a­tor had been run­ning in­side.

Yel­low po­lice tape cor­doned off the two-story, 152bed nurs­ing home where po­lice and me­dia satel­lite trucks parked out­side.

The fa­cil­ity is across the street from the sprawl­ing Memo­rial Hospi­tal com­plex, which re­port­edly did not suf­fer elec­tri­cal out­ages.

Three pa­tients were found dead at the nurs­ing home early Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous ac­counts, and the oth­ers ap­par­ently suc­cumbed later af­ter be­ing evac­u­ated to hos­pi­tals.

The deaths spurred new con­cern for the ef­fects of wide­spread power out­ages in a state that has one of the high­est pro­por­tions of se­nior res­i­dents in the U.S.

Au­thor­i­ties said they were mov­ing to check that other nurs­ing homes and el­derly-care fa­cil­i­ties were safe.

About 150 of the al­most 700 nurs­ing homes and other care fa­cil­i­ties in Florida do not cur­rently have full power, the Florida Health Care Assn., an in­dus­try group, said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day.

The nurs­ing home where the deaths oc­curred is­sued a state­ment lament­ing “this un­for­tu­nate and tragic out­come,” which it said was the re­sult of “a pro­longed power fail­ure to the trans­former which pow­ered the fa­cil­ity’s air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem as a re­sult of the hur­ri­cane.” The fa­cil­ity’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said it was “co­op­er­at­ing fully” with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in their in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The fed­eral Medi­care agency, in its on­line as­sess­ment of nurs­ing homes, gives the for-profit fa­cil­ity a health in­spec­tion rat­ing of “much be­low av­er­age” and an over­all rat­ing of “be­low av­er­age.”

A Medi­care agency in­spec­tion of the fa­cil­ity this year found a num­ber of prob­lems, in­clud­ing in­ad­e­quate com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems in show­ers and bath­rooms, im­proper dis­posal of garbage, a fail­ure to han­dle linens in a man­ner to pre­vent the spread of in­fec­tion, a fail­ure to en­sure that pa­tients were be­ing fed proper por­tions of food, and a fail­ure to “store, cook and serve food in a safe and clean way.”

The re­port did not men­tion the gen­er­a­tor or po­ten­tial prob­lems with elec­tri­cal out­ages.

The nurs­ing home’s cur­rent own­er­ship group took over in 2015 in bank­ruptcy auc­tion pro­ceed­ings af­ter the pre­vi­ous ma­jor­ity owner was convicted in a Medi­care fraud scheme.

Sen. Bill Nel­son (D-Fla.) said he is ask­ing the sec­re­tary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices to look into what hap­pened.

State law man­dates that nurs­ing homes have emer­gency prepa­ra­tion plans in place — in­clud­ing emer­gency power op­tions — for nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. In­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives said they were tak­ing ad­di­tional steps to en­sure safety in the wake of the storm.

In Mi­ami-Dade County, nearly 442,000 of its 1.1 mil­lion cus­tomers had out­ages, ac­cord­ing to Florida Power & Light. In Broward County, 300,000 were with­out power, and in Palm Beach County about 260,000 out­ages were re­ported, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany. Florida Power & Light es­ti­mates it will re­store power to all of its cus­tomers in South Florida by the week­end.

Ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and a lack of power have made it dif­fi­cult for se­niors and chil­dren in the days since Irma. Of­fi­cials from the Mi­amiDade Pub­lic School District said schools would re­main closed the rest of the week be­cause of power is­sues.

The con­tin­ued lack of power in South Florida has forced peo­ple to change their life­styles and, in some cases, to find al­ter­na­tive short-term hous­ing.

“It’s just been very hard, es­pe­cially for our son,” said Yu­layki Guillen, 24, who found a ho­tel in down­town Mi­ami along with her hus­band, mother and 5-year-old son, Luis.

The fam­ily spent Tues­day night in the ho­tel, pay­ing about $200, af­ter sev­eral dif­fi­cult evenings with­out elec­tric­ity in their con­do­minium north of down­town.

“Our son was very un­com­fort­able — he couldn’t sleep, he was sweat­ing, and he was out of his rou­tine,” said Guillen, sit­ting in the lobby of the ho­tel with her fam­ily. “So we de­cided to come here. At least there’s air con­di­tion­ing. Luis likes it here. He wants to stay.”

Food is an­other is­sue. Many stores re­main closed be­cause of the lack of elec­tric­ity, mean­ing peo­ple are con­verg­ing on the rel­a­tively few shops and eater­ies that are open. Waits are of­ten con­sid­er­able.

“Even to get fast food at a Burger King or Mc­Don­ald’s, there was a line around the cor­ner,” Guillen said.

Since Irma made land­fall on Sun­day, 13 peo­ple in Florida were killed in storm-re­lated cir­cum­stances — in some cases dur­ing the cleanup ef­forts — in ad­di­tion to those who died at the nurs­ing home. Else­where, Irma was blamed for four deaths in South Carolina and two in Ge­or­gia. At least 37 peo­ple were killed in the Caribbean.

Pres­i­dent Trump plans to visit Naples, Fla., on Thurs­day to meet with first re­spon­ders and res­i­dents af­fected by the storm.

Amy Beth Bennett Sun Sen­tinel

A RES­I­DENT is trans­ported from a nurs­ing home in Hol­ly­wood, Fla., where five women and three men died. Air con­di­tion­ing failed af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma hit.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.