by Garth A. Rose
Six patients from a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida died on Wednesday. Although not officially confirmed it is believed the patients died as the result of the heat and humidity in the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.
Like hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses in South Florida the center lost electricity, and air conditioning, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Criminal investigation underway
Police authorities have announced there is a criminal investigation underway to determine the cause of the deaths.
“We’re conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths that occurred here,” said Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez, during a press conference Wednesday morning.
At around 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday 115 residents, most over age 75, in the facility were evacuated to nearby hospitals.
News of the deaths were first announced by Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief during a Wednesday morning press conference. She said three patients died at the Rehabilitation Center, and three others were pronounced dead at the Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.
Three of the five deceased persons were identified by the medical examiner’s office as Estella Hendricks, 71, Gail Nova, 71, and Carolyn Eatherly, 78.
Hollywood Police spokeswoman Miranda Grossman said police were first alerted patients in distress at the Rehabilitation Center at 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday. When the police arrived they discovered the deaths and the majority of patients “in respiratory distress.” First responders described the situation at the center as a “critical heat event.”
Temperatures in South Florida reached to the mid-nineties during the day on Tuesday and mid-8os on Wednesday night. Many residents without electricity in their homes abandoned those homes to seek shelter with friends or relatives with power and air conditioning, or in local hotels and other cooler places.
“I just had to leave my house for a cooler place,” said 58-year-old Ronald Perry of Plantation. “The heat in the house was over 100 degrees and would have killed me if I stayed without the a/c.”
It was not clear whether the Rehabilitation Center had a back-up generator or what measures were taken to care for residents after the storm.
Sanchez said police would be checking the approximately 42 assisted living facilities throughout the City of Hollywood for any other patients in distress.
Patients from a behavioral unit of another nearby facility, the Larkin Community Hospital, were also being evacuated, officials said.
FPL loss power
Irma cut power to millions of Floridians and killed more than 54 people across the Caribbean and the southeastern United States as it rampaged across the Atlantic. As of Wednesday, nearly 60 percent of customers had electricity restored, according to Florida Power & Light.
Sharief said she had asked the utility company to prioritize getting power back for assisted-living, nursing home, and senior care center.
A spokesman for FPL in a press conference said the facility was not listed as a top facility for restoration of power. He urged residents who are sick, and/or aged to seek shelter with a cooling system and no remain in over heated residents. Residents finding the heat unbearable can also call 911 for help.