Albuquerque Journal

Investigat­ion reveals details of deaths at rehab center

New rules to require backup AC systems


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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