Eight residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida died after the nursing home’s air conditioning unit broke in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The lack of AC in the hot weather forced 115 residents to be evacuated. The victims range from 71 years old to 99.
Jean Linder, a cook at the facility, told the New York Times that the rehab center did have power, but the AC broke.
The hospital has set up a hotline, 954-265-1074, for families of residents to call for more information.
Here is what you need to know about the deaths. This is a breaking story and will continue to be updated.
1. At Least 8 People Died After the Rehabilitation Center’s AC Stopped Working
Local10 reports that officials confirmed that five people died at the nursing home in a press conference. Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said three died at the facility, while two others died after they were taken to Memorial Regional Hospital.
Hollywood police Chief Tomas Sanchez later told Local10 that a sixth person died.
Paramedics were called to the nursing home at around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. The building had been without power for a time after Irma hit. However, cook Jean Linder told the New York Times that power was back at the time the AC stopped working.
An Airstron employee, Dave Long, was called to fix the air conditioning. He told Local10 that a fuse needed to cool the unit popped out and he was trying to get a hold of Florida Power & Electric to get it fixed. Long told Local10 that it would only take about a half hour to fix it.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Long told Local10. “We’ve been calling and calling. … It just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and I can’t do anything until we get that fuse popped back in.” He called the situation “frustrating.”
The rehab center said in a statement to CNN that the home had a “prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility’s air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane.”
The deceased have been identified as Bobby Owens, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Gail Nova, 71; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Betty Hibbard, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99.
2. Hollywood Police Launched a Criminal Investigation Into the Incident
Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez told Local10 that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into the incident. “We’re conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths that occurred here,” Sanchez said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said the Florida Department of Children of Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration are investigating.
The 115 patients at the building were evacuated and taken to Memorial Regional Hospital. Sharief said that the nursing home had about 100 patients who were moved to the hospital for safety. Aerial footage showed other patients on stretchers and in wheelchairs outside the facility.
The nearby Larkin Community Hospital was also evacuated.
Dr. Randy Katz, the medical director at Memorial Regional Hospital, told Local10 that most of the patients taken to the hospital were “treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues.”
Scott said in a statement:
“I am absolutely heartbroken to learn of news reports of the deaths of multiple individuals in a nursing home in Broward County. Protecting the lives of Floridians is my top priority and that’s why we have worked all week to help Floridians prepare and respond to Hurricane Irma. I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place. Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable. Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe – especially patients that are in poor health. I have directed the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to immediately work with local law enforcement to conduct an investigation, and if they find that anyone wasn’t acting in the best interests of their patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law. I am also asking available first responders to immediately check in with the healthcare facilities in their area to make sure nursing homes and assisted living facilities are able to keep their residents safe.”
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration also issued an immediate moratorium on admissions to the nursing home after a survey of the facility Wednesday. The agency found that staff at the facility knew about the AC not working as early as September 10, but did not call first responders right away. Instead, they called the local power company and installed eight portable air coolers throughout the building.
3. The Facility Has a Bad Record With State Inspections
According to the rehabilitation center’s website, the facility provides both long-term care for residents and a short-term rehabilitation program. It is located at 1200 N 35 Avenue in Hollywood.
“Long term care at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills means taking the time to provide for all of a resident’s special needs. Top-quality medical care is combined with special programs and amenities to enhance quality of life and fill the spirit,” reads a statement on its site.
It also notes its close proximity to Memorial Regional Hospital in case of emergencies.
The Miami Herald reports that the facility has a terrible record with state regulators. The Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration gave the building a “much below average” inspection rating, noting that it was “below average” in terms of fire safety and health inspections.
The Herald found that the facility is owned by a doctor Jack Michel and has a relationship with the nearby Larkin Community Hospital, which also has a bad history with regulators. In 2006, Larkin reached a $15.4 million settlement with the U.S. Justice DEpartment over a civil fraud complaint.
4. FPL Says It Could Take Weeks to Restore Power for Everyone In Florida After Irma
On Monday, Florida Power & Light said it could be “weeks” before power is fully restored in the state. ABC News reported that 6.5 million accounts were without power by Monday afternoon, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“What we think we’ll see on the west coast is a wholesale rebuild of our electric grid,” Robert Gould, FPL vice president and chief communications officer, told ABC News. “That will take weeks. This thing is a monster.”
Gould told ABC News that FPL has 17,000 restoration workers from 30 states working in Florida to get power back as soon as possible. However, he told residents to be patient.
“This is going to be a very, very lengthy restoration, arguably the most lengthy restoration and most complex in U.S. history,” Gould said.
5. Irma Caused 23 Deaths in the U.S. as of Wednesday Morning
WSBTV in Atlanta reports that the death toll from Hurricane Irma reached 23 on Wednesday morning. Sixteen people have died in Florida. Four deaths in South Carolina and three in Georgia have been tied to the storm.
According to ABC News, FEMA is reporting that 25 percent of all homes on the Florida Keys were destroyed and 65 percent of homes suffered major damage. At least 90 percent of all homes in the Florida Keys suffered some damage.
Broward County also saw significant damage. On Monday afternoon, Sharief told residents that there were still major roadways blocked by debris or flooding, but things would be better on Tuesday.
“We have some major road blockages throughout Broward County,” Sharief said. “We’re clearing them as fast as we can.”
According to CBS News, an estimated 21,000 Floridians are still in shelters.