Florida Nursing Home Under Investigation After Hurricane Deaths

In September 2017, Florida experienced the most severe hurricane in history, Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Irma moved slowly throughout the Caribbean, causing devastating damage to Cuba, Saint Martin, Puerto Rico, and Turks and Caicos Islands. As Hurricane Irma moved through the Atlantic Ocean, the warm waters enabled the hurricane to gain strength. Records show that Hurricane Irma cause 132 deaths and reached 183 mph winds. Unofficially, Hurricane Irma was the fifth-costliest hurricane in history, costing over $62.87 billion U.S. dollars. All of these areas suffered from environmental damage, structural damage, lack of food, water, and loss of electricity. In Hollywood, Florida, one nursing home experienced electricity loss, which allowed temperatures to reach excruciatingly steaming temperatures. The nursing home is now under investigation, as the loss of power is assumed to be the cause of eight deaths.


According to Florida Governor Rick Scott, the nursing home prepared adequately with food and water for 1 week, while checking that the power generator was working properly. However, until there is an answer on why eight nursing home residents died, Governor Scott has ordered an emergency moratorium, preventing new patients from being admitted.


Three separate investigations focusing on hospital negligence has been launched, as well as a criminal investigation. Federal law requires that nursing home temperatures must be kept between 71 and 81 degrees. Nursing homes are also required to have a backup energy source in the event of an emergency, ensuring that residents are living in a safe range temperature. Once the investigation had begun, it was confirmed that the nursing home’s air conditioning system was not functioning fully. Additionally, portable air conditioning units were not being used, which is why the temperature at the nursing home facility was unbearably hot. Currently, the city is investigating whether the cause of death was heat-related, for all of the lives that were lost so unfortunately.


According to reports, the nursing home lost power on September 12th, and informed the Broward County Emergency Operations Center of lost power. One patient was found dead that same day, and no authorities were informed about the death. One day later, a nursing home resident went into cardiac arrest. The police were notified, and the patient was transported to Memorial Regional Hospital. Within the same hour, another 911 call was made, informing police of another patient experiencing issues breathing. The patient with breathing problems was the third case of health problems being experienced since the lost power.


The fire department was then sent to investigate the nursing home, when they found three patients that were already deceased. Additionally, several patients were in distress. Due to all of the calls and deaths that had occurred, the chief nurse of Memorial Regional Hospital arrived at the nursing home. She found more patients in distress, recognizing unbearably high heat levels, and triggered the hospital’s mass-casualty alert. She felt that the temperatures were unbearably high for everyone, not only the elderly.


Officials continue to investigate these tragic nursing home deaths, which some say could have been prevented with adequate air condition substitutes during Hurricane Irma. It has not been clearly defined if these deaths were due entirely to the high temperatures, or if other factors played a role. Nursing homes and all other medical facilities should use this tragedy as a learning experience, always checking that patients are safe and comfortable. If an emergency, such as a hurricane occurs, medical professionals must ensure they are prepared adequately. The families of nursing home victims are filing lawsuits, against the nursing home for wrongful death.


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