The death toll has reached eight at a Florida nursing home that lacked air conditioning after Hurricane Irma, and three agencies have launched investigations into the tragedy.
According to CNN, staff members at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, in Hollywood, say they had tried to prepare for Irma. A working power generator was in place and the home had stocked up on a week’s worth of food and water.
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But after a tree fell down on a transformer that powered the air conditioning system, staffers struggled to keep residents cool by using fans and portable air conditioner units, CNN reported.
Ellie Pina visited her mother at the nursing home days before residents were evacuated by emergency crews on Wednesday.
“They were trying to get them all together so they could be able to breathe,” Pina told CNN.
And Jeffrey Nova said he’d been calling the nursing home to check up on his mother, but received no answer. On Wednesday he learned from a news reporter that his mother, Gail Nova, was among the dead.
“I’m not quite clear on how this happened,” Nova told CNN.
Lacking a central air conditioning system, patients were kept in hallways near portable cooling units in the days during and after Irma.
Early Wednesday morning the nursing home sent out its first 911 call, with one patient in cardiac arrest. That was followed an hour later by a second call regarding a resident who was having trouble breathing. More EMS crews were sent over after a third call was received, the City of Hollywood said in a statement.
When the nursing home was fully evacuated on Wednesday morning, one resident was dead and the body already taken to a funeral home, three more were found dead on the facility’s second floor, and four more died after being taken to hospitals.
The exact causes of death are still to be determined.
On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an order to prevent the nursing home from admitting new patients.
“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” he said in a statement, CNN reported. “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.”
“We are devastated by these losses,” nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said in a statement, CNN reported. “We are fully cooperating with all authorities and regulators to assess what went wrong and to ensure our other residents are cared for.”
He said the facility had immediately contacted Florida Power & Light on when repairs might be made to restore electricity.
For their part, city and state officials said they’d reached out to the nursing home urging them to call 911 if management thought there were health and safety issues.
“When asked if they had any medical needs or emergencies, [they] did not request assistance or indicate any medical emergency existed,” Hollywood Hills Mayor Barbara Sharief said in a statement.
In a statement, Richard Beltran, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light, said: “What we know now is that a portion of the facility did, in fact, have power, that there was a hospital across the parking lot from this facility and that the nursing home was required to have a permanently installed operational generator.”
According to CNN, the nursing home has been cited in the past for safety violations, including two for not following generator guidelines in 2014 and 2016. In both those cases, the facility did correct those issues, CNN said.
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