Florida has approximately 20 million residents, and 4 million of those residents are age 65 years and older. Accordingly, Florida has 680 nursing homes. To what degree are these nursing homes responsible for not only caring for their patients’ medical well-being and safety under normal circumstances, but also when a natural disaster occurs.
Deaths at Nursing Home During Hurricane Irma
On Wednesday September 13, 2017, eight (8) deaths were reported among residents ranging in ages from 71 to 99 at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a facility owned by Larkin Health Systems. Larkin Health Systems has had previous incidents which resulted in investigations. The facility has a two out of five-star rating.
Per Rule Chapter 59A-4 of the Florida Administrative Code, there are minimum standards for nursing homes, Section 59A-4.126 referring to Disaster Preparedness. This plan must be submitted annually and reviewed.
Jorge Carballo, the rehabilitation center’s administrator reported that prior to the storm they were prepared. The generator was working and they had adequate food and water for all residents for up to 7 days. What they were not prepared for was the lack of air and intense heat that followed the storm. Following Hurricane Irma the center lost power and while they did contact Florida Power & Light to report their outages they were informed they were not as high on the priority list as other facilities. While they did act to set up portable air coolers and station fans throughout, they never did try to evacuate the facility or contact family members of the residents to notify them of situation.
Proper Preparation Could Prevent Deaths
Because of these deaths and the many that suffered the same predicament during Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Harvey. These facilities will be required have “alternative sources of energy to maintain temperatures to protect health and safety.” However, this new rule would still not require second generators which are normally required to back up air conditioning systems.
Governor Rick Scott took action to investigate the recent deaths and ordered the above-named facility to be kicked out of the Medicaid program. This is not the first incident for this facility or those who manage it, which is no surprise why this particular site has a two out of five star rating.
New, more stringent laws for facilities such as these, an investigation and the Governor’s action against this site will not bring back these victims. Their unfortunate deaths could have been avoided had different actions been taken by those responsible for keeping them safe.
Our thoughts are with the families of those who suffered.