Eight die in nursing home after air conditioning fails
By The Washington Post
Sept. 14, 2017 at 12:02 a.m.
At least eight elderly people died in a sweltering South Florida nursing home after it apparently lost its air conditioning amid ongoing, widespread power outages related to Hurricane Irma.
The deaths, which prompted a criminal investigation on Wednesday, were what many feared might happen after Irma knocked out power for millions of people in Florida, which is known for its extreme heat. Without the respite of air conditioning, the heat poses a particular threat to Florida's large population of elderly residents, who are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
In Hollywood, Florida, where temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s through the end of the week, authorities were called early Wednesday to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a nursing home not far from Fort Lauderdale with a troubled history.
What they found was gruesome: Three people inside already were dead, while other patients were in "varying degrees of medical distress," city officials said. At least five were pronounced dead later, while dozens of the home's residents were spirited from the stifling building to local hospitals, including Memorial Regional Hospital just down the street.
Those who died — five women and three men — were between the ages of 71 and 99.
"We believe at this time it may be related to the loss of power in the storm," Tomas Sanchez, the Hollywood police chief, said at a news briefing Wednesday. "It's a sad event."
Police later said they are working to determine what caused the tragedy.
"The initial investigation has determined that the facility's air conditioning system was not fully functional," Hollywood city officials said in a statement Wednesday evening. "Portable units were being used in the facility, but the facility was excessively hot."
The first call came in to firefighters at 3 a.m. Wednesday, about a patient believed to be in cardiac arrest, officials said. Firefighters returned to the facility an hour later for a patient with breathing problems, and they then called a state agency with concerns about the facility. When a third call for help came in, more Hollywood Fire Rescue crews were dispatched, and they were joined by Memorial Regional Hospital staff.
"There was no air conditioning," said Randy Katz, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Memorial. "The temperatures, particularly on the second floor, were extremely hot."
Ellie Pina, whose 96-year-old mother, Mirelle, is a resident at the center, said the facility had been running on generators since the power went out on Sunday while Hurricane Irma swept through Florida. Pina said she and others repeatedly called Florida Power and Light about the lack of electricity and were ignored.
"I told Florida Power and Light the generators were going to give up soon. And it happened," said Pina, reciting her ticket number, which recorded her seeking help. "I told my husband people were going to die in there. And it happened."