In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the lack of air conditioning at a Florida skilled nursing facility (SNF) appears to have led to the death of eight residents, spurring action to ensure resident safety at other SNFs throughout the state.
Early Wednesday, police arrived at the 152-bed Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Fla., to find three residents had died and numerous others were in a state of distress, local officials stated. The facility was evacuated and at least a dozen residents were taken to a hospital down the street, which declared a mass casualty incident. Over the course of Wednesday, the death toll rose to eight, with the deceased ranging in age from 71 to 99.
Federal, state, and local authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths, USA Today reported. Administrator Jorge Carballo said that the SNF is fully cooperating with authorities and described the situation as “unfortunate and tragic,” according to the Miami Herald.
The facility had not responded to requests for comment from Skilled Nursing News as of Wednesday afternoon.
The SNF experienced a power failure after Irma swept across the state last weekend. Following Wednesday’s evacuation, questions focused on whether the facility’s on-site generator was working. There are conflicting reports about how long the facility was without air conditioning before the authorities intervened. Temperatures in Florida have been in the 80s since the hurricane passed.
The Hollywood SNF has a history of citations related to its backup power capabilities, records show. It has an overall two-star rating on the Nursing Home Compare website maintained by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and a one-star health inspection rating.
Another SNF in the area—Krystal Bay Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in North Miami Beach—was evacuated Wednesday afternoon, according to NBC News. There are about 40 other SNFs and assisted living facilities in Hollywood, and all of them were being checked for safe conditions on Wednesday, NPR reported.
There are roughly 700 senior care facilities in the state, and 150 of them did not have full power restored as of Wednesday, according to the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), a skilled nursing industry trade group. The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills is not an FHCA member.
“Working side-by-side in the state emergency operations center throughout the hurricane and in its aftermath, our team has promptly flagged those facilities without power to the Agency for Health Care Administration so utility companies can prioritize the locations with the greatest need,” FHCA said in a statement released Wednesday.
Other communities cope
The second floor of the Hollywood Hills facility was especially sweltering and is a focus of investigators, according to USA Today.
“Our investigation has revealed that it was extremely hot on the second floor of the facility,” said Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.
It is not necessarily unusual if air conditioning is limited to certain areas of a senior care facility after an event like Irma. For example, Legend Senior Living had been using generator power to air-condition common spaces of its affected assisted living and memory care communities in Florida, COO Chris Mahen told Skilled Nursing News. Wichita, Kansas-based Legend owns and operates 36 communities in six states, offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and personal care.
“In our buildings, the generators are hooked up to the common area [AC] units,” he said. “We won’t be at 70 degrees throughout the building, but residents don’t like that anyway.”
Five of Legend’s nine Florida communities lost power as a result of Irma. As of Wednesday morning, power had been restored to all five, Director of Marketing Terri Maus said.
Even during power outages, residents were comfortable, said Mahen.
“We even had some family members ride the hurricane out in our communities,” he said. “They were able to add to the environment even when we didn’t have power. Families, residents, and staff came together to pass the time without electronics.”
Written by Tim Mullaney