Call after call was made from the Rehabilitation Center nursing home in Hollywood Hills, Florida to emergency services as elderly patients slipped into cardiac arrest and respiratory failure. After the third call, even the fire department knew something was terribly wrong. But just hours after the first call, responders who had arrived to fully evacuate the nursing home found the situation was far worse than the 911 calls had indicated. Three more residents were found dead on the second floor of the facility, and another was already with the coroner. Four more would expire at the hospital by the time the evacuation was complete.
How did eight people die in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma? Florida Gov. Rick Scott and no fewer than three different agencies are trying to find that out. “I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” he said in a statement. “If they find that this facility was not meeting the state’s high standards of care, they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
It seems that things initially went downhill when the nursing home’s air conditioner was crushed by a tree. There simply wasn’t enough generator power to keep all residents at a safe temperature while also running other crucial equipment, like kitchen appliances. Though staff tried to gather as many residents as possible near cooling fans, it might not have been enough to keep patients at a safe temperature. Night time temperatures in Hollywood would have been about 82 degrees, with such intense humidity that it felt more like 90.
Despite those conditions, staff at the Rehabilitation Center didn’t request evacuation until it was already too late. They made an initial call to Florida Power and Light to find out when the electricity would be back on but didn’t heed advice to contact emergency services until after patients were already in distress. “When asked if they had any medical needs or emergencies” explained Hollywood Hills Mayor Barbara Sharief, the Center “did not request assistance or indicate any medical emergency existed.”
With Gov. Scott’s new moratorium, the Center isn’t allowed to admit any new patients until investigations are complete and power is back on. One thing that will definitely require further inspection is why the Center had a generator deficiency in the first place. In 2014 and 2016, the nursing home was cited for not adhering to regulations related to generators in case of just such an emergency but had become compliant. Nor is it unclear how the situation grew so dire.
Richard Beltran of Florida Power & Light noted that not only did “a portion of the facility did, in fact, have power,” there was also “a hospital across the parking lot from this facility and … the nursing home was required to have a permanently installed operational generator.” Already, it already seems like there might have been some way to prevent this tragedy.