The Florida nursing home where six people died Wednesday morning had a history of safety issues, including ones with its generator, according to a new report from Stat. The six deaths reported earlier today (three occurring at the Hollywood, Fla. nursing home, three after patients were taken to the hospital), are thought to be due to the facility’s lack of air conditioning due to power outages following Hurricane Irma. A criminal investigation has been opened, according to the Hollywood police chief.
The facility, Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in eastern Florida, has been cited twice for violating federal requirements relating to its backup power sources, according to records reviewed by Stat. The records show that last year, the home had only a temporary generator, and was unable to produce documentation confirming its plans to replace it with a permanent one.
Prior to the hurricane, Broward County did not list the nursing home as one of the top priority facilities for restoring power after the storm, the Washington Post reported. A kitchen worker told the Miami Herald that the nursing home was using its generator’s power to cook food but not to power its air conditioning. The temperature in the area at the time was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
In an online statement, Florida Gov. Rick Scott pledged to investigate through local law enforcement and state agencies. “I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” the statement reads. “Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable.” The Miami Herald also reported that the center has a “much below average” health rating and a “below average” overall rating, which combines assessments from staff, fire safety, and health inspections.
According to the New York Times, Florida law requires nursing homes to be prepared for providing emergency power, food, water, supplies, and staff in an emergency. An upcoming federal rule also mandates that the alternative power source must maintain temperatures appropriate for the residents’ health.
Under Obama-era rules, residents who are harmed by inappropriate temperatures could likely sue their care centers for negligence or abuse. But the Trump administration has proposed replacing the rule with one that would make it “almost impossible” to do so, according to NPR. The new rule would allow nursing homes to require that residents agree to arbitration in lieu of a dispute in court, a process that is argued to be more efficient, but also tends to be less favorable for the plaintiff and reward far less in compensation.
The residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills are not the only ones at risk. The Florida Health Care Association, an industry group for long-term care, released a statement emphasizing the strain Hurricane Irma has put on nursing homes and care centers. “As with millions of other Floridians, our centers are coping with the loss of power and infrastructure in the communities that were most affected by the devastation,” the statement reads. They estimate that 150 out of the 700 long-term care facilities still do not have full power. Scott also said he would ask first responders to check on other nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area.