Se­niors fight post-hur­ri­cane heat with ice pops, com­presses

The Maui News - - NEWS - By TERRY SPENCER and JAY REEVES The As­so­ci­ated Press

HOL­LY­WOOD, Fla. — Florida se­niors were ush­ered out of sti­fling as­sisted-liv­ing cen­ters Thurs­day while care­givers fought a lack of air con­di­tion­ing with ice pops and cool com­presses af­ter eight peo­ple died at a nurs­ing home in the post-hur­ri­cane 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.

Fifty-seven res­i­dents were moved from a Fort Laud­erdale as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity with­out power to two nearby homes where power had been re­stored. Owner Ralph Mar­rin­son said that all five of his Florida fa­cil­i­ties lost elec­tric­ity af­ter Irma. Work­ers scram­bled to keep pa­tients cool with emer­gency stocks of ice and ice pops.

“FPL has got to have a bet­ter plan for power,” Mar­rin­son 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 lead­ers as they sur­veyed de­struc­tion from the pun­ish­ing storm.

Older peo­ple can be more sus­cep­ti­ble to heat be­cause their bod­ies do not ad­just to tem­per­a­tures as well as those of younger peo­ple. They do not sweat as much and are more likely to have med­i­cal con­di­tions that change how the body re­sponds to heat. They are also more likely to take med­i­ca­tion that af­fects body tem­per­a­ture.

Most peo­ple who die from high body tem­per­a­ture, known as hy­per­ther­mia, are over 50, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health.

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 that many of its South Florida mem­bers lacked elec­tric­ity.

On Wed­nes­day, near Or­lando, fire­fight­ers helped re­lo­cate 122 peo­ple from two as­sist­edliv­ing 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.

For older peo­ple liv­ing on their own, such as 94-year-old Mary Del­laratta, get­ting help can de­pend on the at­ten­tive­ness of neigh­bors, fam­ily and lo­cal author­i­ties. The widow evac­u­ated her Naples con­do­minium with the help of po­lice the day be­fore the hur­ri­cane. Af­ter the storm passed, a deputy took her home and another brought her food. A dea­con from her church also stopped by.

But with no fam­ily in the area and neigh­bors who are gone or un­will­ing to help, the New York na­tive feels cut off from the world.

“I have no­body,” she said. The elec­tric­ity is out in her condo, so there’s no tele­vi­sion for news and she can­not raise the elec­tric-pow­ered hur­ri­cane shut­ters that cover her kitchen win­dows.

Near the point of de­spair, re­mem­ber­ing to take her medicine or lo­cat­ing her cane are al­most in­sur­mount­able chal­lenges.

“I don’t know what to do. How am I go­ing to last here?” she said.

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 that 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.”

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 stands 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 be­lieve were heat-re­lated.

Cen­ter of­fi­cials said that the hur­ri­cane knocked out a trans­former that pow­ered the air con­di­tion­ing. Broward County said that the home alerted of­fi­cials about the sit­u­a­tion Tues­day, but when asked if it had any med­i­cal needs or emer­gen­cies, it did not re­quest help.

But, by early Wed­nes­day, the cen­ter had placed three calls to re­port pa­tients in dis­tress, prompt­ing fire­fight­ers to search the fa­cil­ity. They found three peo­ple dead and evac­u­ated 145 peo­ple to hos­pi­tals, many on stretch­ers or in wheel­chairs, author­i­ties said. By that af­ter­noon, five more had died.

The fa­cil­ity’s ad­min­is­tra­tor, Jorge Car­ballo, said that his staff was co­op­er­at­ing fully with author­i­ties.

Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced Thurs­day that he has di­rected the Agency for Health Care Ad­min­is­tra­tion to ter­mi­nate the cen­ter as a Med­i­caid provider. The pro­gram pro­vides health care for low-in­come in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies.

Reached by phone Thurs­day, Rose­mary Cooper, a li­censed prac­ti­cal nurse at the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter, de­clined to dis­cuss specifics about the case, cit­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The peo­ple who were work­ing there worked hard to make a good out­come for our pa­tients,” she said. “We cared for them like fam­ily.”

But state records re­vealed a va­ri­ety of prob­lems at the cen­ter. 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 and test­ing, ac­cord­ing to Fe­bru­ary 2016 re­ports by Florida Agency for Health Care Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­spec­tors.

Another 2016 re­port found prob­lems with re­spect­ing pa­tient dig­nity and main­tain­ing house­keep­ing ser­vices.

AP photo

Pa­tients are evac­u­ated from Krys­tal Bay Nurs­ing and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter in North Miami Beach, Fla., on Wed­nes­day. Emer­gency crews around Florida are mov­ing el­derly res­i­dents from nurs­ing homes with­out power af­ter eight peo­ple died in one swel­ter­ing fa­cil­ity.

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