Eight patients at a Florida nursing home who spent days in sweltering heat died after Hurricane Irma knocked out their air conditioning.
Fire rescue crews and police responded to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida, early Wednesday morning after receiving calls of patients in distress. Hollywood police chief Tomas Sanchez said at a press conference that officers found "extremely hot" temperatures on the second floor. First responders ordered the nursing home evacuated.
The nursing home had been without air conditioning since Irma knocked out electricity to the area.
"What has happened here is inexcusable," Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday. "These kind of facilities should be regulated with a strong, tight rein ... and it hasn't happened."
Nelson spoke to the secretary of Health and Human Services and urged that an investigation be opened.
Three patients died at the nursing home, and three others died Wednesday morning shortly after being transported to local hospitals. The Broward County Medical Examiner announced the deaths of two more patients Wednesday afternoon.
"People are just absolutely shocked that someone in the staff would not know enough that a frail, elderly person is dying of heat exhaustion and would at least know to dial 911 ... this is what is inexcusable," Nelson said. "There will be an investigation here and we will get to the bottom of it."
The facility's administrator, Jorge Carbollo, issued a statement Wednesday night saying, "The Center and its medical and administrative staff diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators. While our Center did not lose power during the storm, it did lose one transformer that powers the air conditioning unit. The Center immediately contacted Florida Power & Light and continued to follow up with them for status updates on when repairs would be made. Outreach was also made to local emergency officials and first responders.
"In compliance with state regulations, the Center did have a generator on standby in the event it would be needed to power life safety systems. The Center also had seven days of food, water, ice and other supplies, including gas for the generator. Additionally, when the transformer powering the A/C went down, staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility. Our staff continually checked on our residents' well-being—our most important concern—to ensure they were hydrated and as comfortable as possible.
"We are devastated by these losses. We are fully cooperating with all authorities and regulators to assess what went wrong and to ensure our other residents are cared for."
The eight victims ranged in age from 70 to 99. The were identified by the Broward County medical examiner as Gail Nova, 70; Estella Hendricks, 71; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Betty Hibbard, 84; Bobby Owens, 84; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; and Albertina Vega, 99.
The evacuation included 115 patients from the nursing home and 18 from a nearby behavioral facility. The patients were transported to area hospitals, including Memorial Regional Hospital across the street.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he was "absolutely heartbroken" over the deaths, calling the situation "unfathomable." Scott said he was directing state agencies to worth with local law enforcement to investigate the incident.
"If they find that anyone wasn't acting in the best interests of the patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Scott said in a statement.
He also directed Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium keeping the center from anymore patients until the moratorium is lifted.
The manager of the nursing home has a history of health-care fraud accusations. Federal court records show the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami filed civil charges in 2004 against Dr. Jack Michel, several other individuals, and several businesses, including Larkin Health Systems. Larkin Health Systems owns The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.