At least six residents died at a nursing home in Broward County, Florida, that was reportedly without air conditioning after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to portions of the county and large areas of the state, officials said Wednesday morning.
Three people died at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills while three others were pronounced dead after being taken to nearby Memorial Regional Hospital, officials said at a news briefing. The nursing home, located in Hollywood, Florida, reportedly failed previous safety inspections, including repeated problems with its generator.
Timothy Keefe, deputy chief of the Broward County Fire-Rescue, said his department helped the city of Hollywood, on the east coast of the state, evacuate the entire facility. Keefe termed it a “multi-casualty incident.” Officials said 115 people have been evacuated to other facilities and additional residents were in process of being evacuated.
As a precautionary measure, police are checking the other 42 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the city of Hollywood. The city’s police department is reportedly “conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths” that occurred at the nursing home.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida are required to have backup power systems and must have emergency and evacuation plans in place.
In recent years, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has been cited for violations related to federal requirements about its backup power capabilities, STAT reported Wednesday. During a February 2016 visit, a federal inspector found the facility “failed to maintain the emergency generator to manufacture and code requirements,” according to records reviewed by STAT.
Investigators said they believe the six deaths were heat-related. Over the past three days, daytime temperatures in the region, about 20 miles north of Miami, have hovered around 90 degrees, with extremely high humidity, causing it to feel well above 100 degrees.
Millions of people in Florida and other southeastern states lost power due to Irma, making the hurricane the worst weather-related power outage in U.S. history. Florida Power & Light, the largest electric utility company in the state, estimated that more than 2.3 million of its 4.9 million customers were still without power Tuesday night. At the height of the outages, 4.4 million FPL customers were without power.
Florida Health Care Association spokesperson Kristen Knapp said 168 nursing homes in the state lost power from the storm and were using backup generators to provide electricity to the facilities. Sixty-one nursing homes had been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon, Knapp said.
One of the issues facing the nursing homes was ensuring they have enough fuel on hand to power their generators on a continuous basis, she noted.
The Florida Health Care Association represents 81 percent of the state’s nursing homes. Florida has 683 nursing homes, which on average house 120 beds, she said. The association hosted daily disaster calls with nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to help them prepare for the storm.
FPL, which provides electric power to Broward County, estimates it will restore power to essentially all customers along its eastern service territory by the end of this coming weekend. For customers along FPL’s western service territory, with the exception of areas affected by tornadoes, severe flooding, and other severe damage, power is expected to be restored by September 22.
Meanwhile, in Texas, family members of residents living at a Port Arthur nursing home that was flooded during Hurricane Harvey are taking legal action against the facility. The family members reportedly are accusing the nursing home of providing “inhumane” treatment during Harvey evacuations.
Last Friday, the District Court of Jefferson County, Texas, granted family members a temporary restraining order against the nursing home, its administrator, and Senior Care Centers, the company that owns the facility.
The family members requested the restraining order to make sure information from computers, medical records, emails, and text messages are preserved from the Lake Arthur Place nursing home. A hearing will be held September 22 to determine whether a temporary injunction should be issued to protect the information pending a possible trial.
This article was updated at 1:50 p.m. ET on Wednesday, September 13, to report that records indicate the nursing home had failed previous safety inspections.