A tragic story, and a curious one as well — curious enough that it’s getting picked up by national media outlets. Five patients died at a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, a result of a failure in its cooling systems. That by itself might not be surprising considering the widespread power outages across the state, but as it turns out, the facility never lost power, at least according to ABC’s affiliate in Hollywood:
Five people are dead after Hurricane Irma knocked out air conditioning at a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, according to ABC affiliate WPLG.
While the causes of their deaths were not immediately clear, the entire facility was evacuated due to the cooling issues.
Police said this morning that this may be related to the loss of power during the storm.
An individual handling air conditioning for the facility told ABC affiliate WPLG that a fuse was damaged during Hurricane Irma, resulting in cooling issues for the past few days. The facility itself has power, the individual said.
Police have now opened a criminal investigation into the deaths as the nursing home scrambles to evacuate the remaining 115 patients. That may not result in any charges, but for now, the police are not ruling that out either:
“We are conducting a criminal investigation inside that we believe at this time may be related to loss of power and the storm, but we are conducting criminal investigation and not ruling anything out,” Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez said, adding that it was a “sad event.”
The Fox report states that the facility lost power, and so does NBC’s:
The nursing home, located in Hollywood, about 20 miles north of Miami, has been in the dark since Irma struck earlier in the week, officials said. It may have had air conditioning problems, they added.
Temperatures in South Florida this week have been in the 80s, and the low in Hollywood on Tuesday was 79 degrees. …
It was not clear whether the building had a back-up generator or what measures were taken to care for residents after the storm. Phone calls to the nursing home went unanswered Wednesday morning.
However, WPLG’s report puts the blame elsewhere. The repairman claims he had been calling Florida Power & Light “for days” to get the part needed to put the AC back on line, but that he never heard back from them:
Local 10 News reporter Jenise Fernandez spoke to the man who has been trying to repair the AC. Airstron employee Dave Long said that a fuse needed to cool the AC unit popped out during Hurricane Irma and needs to be repaired. He said he’s been calling Florida Power & Light for days to get it fixed.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Long said. “We’ve been calling and calling. … It just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and I can’t do anything until we get that fuse popped back in.”
Long described the ordeal as “frustrating.”
If that’s true, then having power would have made no difference. The facility reportedly has a backup generator, so utility-supplied power shouldn’t have been a consideration. It leaves open the question, however, why a health-care facility with patients vulnerable to extreme heat would not have replacement parts on hand for mission-critical cooling systems, and why no evacuation took place before patients started dying. The hurricane itself may be the answer to the second question, but not the first.