Eight 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 facility, Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, evacuated all of its patients to hospitals due to the cooling issues.
Most of the patients were treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues, officials said.
Officials said 18 additional patients from a second adjoining facility were also relocated due to the investigation, though these patients were “not medically compromised.”
Dr. Randy Katz, director of emergency services at Memorial Regional Hospital, which is next to the nursing home but is not affiliated with the nursing home, alleged there were extremely hot temperatures on the nursing home’s second floor.
An individual handling air conditioning for the facility told WPLG that a fuse was damaged during Irma, resulting in cooling issues for the past few days. The facility itself has power, the individual said.
Nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said in a statement that the facility evacuated this morning “due to a prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility’s air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane.”
“Unfortunately, early this morning several patients experienced distress and there were three fatalities at the facility” followed by other fatalities at “the hospital they were transferred to,” Carballo said. “Facility administration is cooperating fully with relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to this unfortunate and tragic outcome. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were affected.”
The Florida governor’s office said Department of Health officials were “in contact with Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services management and the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills over the past three days” and that “hospital administrators were advised to call 911 if they had any reason to believe that the health or safety of patients was at risk.” The governor’s office said on Tuesday “the facility reported to the AHCA [Agency for Health Care Administration] that they had power and access to fans and spot coolers.”
The deaths are under investigation.
Police said a criminal investigation is underway and they are not ruling anything out.
“This was a terrible incident, the scene was chaotic when I arrived,” Katz said, adding, “the fact that it’s down the street, you know, we don’t have control over what goes on in that facility.”
Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy said temperatures have climbed to over 90 degrees in the city and that half of Hollywood is without power.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement that he was “heartbroken” to learn of the deaths and he is “going to aggressively demand answers.”
“This situation is unfathomable,” Scott said. “Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe – especially patients that are in poor help.”
Scott said he has directed the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to work with law enforcement on an investigation. “If they find that anyone wasn’t acting in the best interests of their patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” the governor said.
Scott said he is also asking available first responders to check with their local health facilities to make sure nursing homes are keeping their residents safe.
The medical examiner’s office said the victims were: Bobby Owens, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Gail Nova, 71; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Betty Hibbard, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99.
Amber Mickles, whose great-grandmother is a patient at the nursing home, told reporters she believes her great-grandmother is OK, but she’s “trying to see exactly what’s going on because we don’t really know.”
Mickles said she was not notified of any air conditioning issues.
“I can’t even take the heat right now from the air conditioning down,” she said. “I’m 29, I can’t take it.”
“I feel very sorry for the ones that lost somebody,” she added. “I think you should’ve had the option to come pick up your family member.”
ABC News’ Dan Childs, Ben Stein and Jason Volack contributed to this report.
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