A ninth patient from a South Florida nursing home that overheated during power outages following Hurricane Irma died on Tuesday, according to police.
The death of Carlos Canal, the ninth patient, occurred nearly a week after the nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, became the focus of a criminal investigation when the air conditioning failed and eight other patients ultimately died.
Police did not immediately release a cause of death, though Canal’s daughter told the Miami Herald he died of pneumonia with a fever of 105 degrees.
Power went out for millions across Florida after Irma strafed the state with wind and rain, including at dozens of nursing homes. These outages posed a particular danger to Florida’s large elderly population, and one of the nightmare scenarios played out at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills last week.
The nursing home was evacuated and shut down on Wednesday, and the Hollywood Police Department as well as state agencies have launched probes into what happened.
Nursing home executives have defended their actions, saying they reached out repeatedly to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, R, as well as Florida Power and Light, the utility, in search of help that did not come.
However, state officials and local law enforcement have contradicted the nursing home’s account, both in terms of how aggressively it sought help and specific details of what occurred in the hours before patients began to die.
The Florida Department of Health said that “at no time” did the nursing home “report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk.”
Scott had called the deaths “unfathomable” and said in a statement after they occurred: “The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is responsible for the safety of their patients.”
Adding to the tragedy, the nursing home was located across the street from a sprawling hospital where many of the patients were only taken after the scene deteriorated into a crisis.
The air conditioning went out Sunday, officials said, and so they began reaching out to the governor and the power company. The nursing home said it had obtained “spot chillers” to release cool air as well as portable fans for each patient’s room in the interim.
Nursing home executives said last week that they had reached out to Scott using a private number. A spokesman for Scott said that “every call made to the Governor from facility management” was relayed to state officials “and quickly returned.”
Scott released a statement Saturday criticizing the nursing home staff for waiting as long as they did to call 911, which he said “any health care provider knows to do, if their patients are in danger.”
“We must understand why this facility delayed calling 911 and evacuating patients and their decision to keep their patients in danger,” he said. “During emergencies, health care facilities must be fully prepared to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of those in their care and there is absolutely no excuse not to protect life.”
The nursing home also said it reached out to Florida Power and Light a number of times for service.The utility, which powers half the state, expressed sympathies for those who died but said in a statement it was “limited in what we can say” due to the investigation. The utility did not respond to specific questions regarding the calls the nursing home said were made.
In some other key areas, the nursing home’s account was disputed by local officials. The nursing home said it first called 911 at 1:30 a.m. early Wednesday regarding a patient in cardiac distress, but the Hollywood Police Department, which is conducting the criminal investigation into the deaths, said the first call was 90 minutes later. Police also disputed the timing of other 911 calls the nursing home said were made early that morning.
On Saturday, Scott ordered that all assisted living facilities and nursing homes must have generators and enough fuel “to sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures for at least 96-hours following a power outage,” his office said in a statement.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Mark Berman