Nursing home residents are very vulnerable and rely on others for care. When a natural disaster hits, people in care facilities are disproportionately affected, as they often cannot take steps on their own to aid their recovery. Residents of Florida are currently recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in early September, and the process has been very challenging for nursing homes. One nursing home that experienced multiple fatalities has government officials concerned.
After the storm hit, facilities were without power for several days. In Florida, where high temperatures and humidity can create dangerous living conditions for the elderly, facilities without air conditioning for a prolonged period can be life-threatening. This was the case at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where eight patients were fatally injured due to extreme temperatures.
Patients Suffered Through Extreme Heat for Days
Officials were alerted of the situation at the center after three patients were admitted to the hospital across the street with very high body temperatures. Witnesses report that the center was unbearably hot, and residents were having difficulty breathing. Firefighters evacuated the center, where three patients succumbed to fatal injuries. More than 150 patients were taken to hospitals, some with body temperatures up to 106 degrees, and five patients passed awau that afternoon.
The investigation of the fatalities is still ongoing, but police believe they were heat-related. Hurricane Irma had disabled the transformer that was powering the facility’s air conditioning. Despite alerting county officials that they had lost power, the facility did not request emergency assistance. Instead, the center’s administrator claims they set up mobile cooling units and fans to keep temperatures down. The facility had an emergency backup generator on standby, as is required by law, but they received a citation last year for failing to maintain their generator.
History of Center Reveals Numerous Concerns
The generator is not the only issue that the center was facing. Fire rescue crews have been called to the center an alarming 127 times over the last year. The facility has consistently received low ratings and fines from Medicare inspectors, with some reports detailing disturbing conditions. Inspections by state officials revealed that the facility was poorly maintained, and some patients had even been harmed by medication errors. Furthermore, doctors affiliated with the facility settled many health care fraud charges in 2006, after allegedly sending patients to a hospital where they had a vested interest for unnecessary medical treatment.
Police have obtained a search warrant and opened a criminal investigation to determine the exact conditions that led to the fatalities of these patients. Florida Governor Rick Scott has directed the state’s health administration to revoke the Center’s Medicaid participation. Hopefully this situation will serve as a wake-up call to other facilities that may experience this type of emergency; this is little comfort, however, to the eight families who are now coping with the loss of their loved ones.
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