Natural disasters can sometimes bring out the best in people. Sadly, sometimes, they can also bring out the worst, or at least expose problems in the way that we protect our citizens. Such is the case with the tragic local South Florida nursing home story that made national news after Hurricane Irma hit.
Nursing Home Loses Power After Storm
Hurricane Irma cut power to a huge number of Floridians. While for some of us this means an inconvenience, for some populations, the oppressive heat after power loss can be a matter of life and death.
Such was the case with a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida. News of the deaths of eight elderly residents broke just days after the storm hit. According to reports, the nursing home had lost its air conditioning after Irma, and the heat led to the deaths of eight residents. First responders coming to treat residents in various stages of heat stroke and dehydration contacted the state about the conditions at the facility.
Cell phone video inside the home shows residents sweltering in heat, or lying naked on beds. It showed patients with dementia sitting in rooms with the window slightly cracked open.
Questions began to immediately emerge over how quickly the nursing home acted to get help, to evacuate its residents, or to have generator power to the air conditioning available. Questions also arose given that despite the fact that the home was just across the street from a major hospital (which ended up keeping its power and air conditioning) no residents were moved there before, or after the storm until the deaths occurred days later.
Two Sides to the Story
But even “easy” lawsuits can have difficult factual questions, and results often depend on who can get to the bottom of these conflicts.
Defending itself, the nursing home claims that it did, in fact, immediately look at its property, notice a power line down, and contact county officials. It also says that it had generators on hand, and used mobile cooling units when the air conditioner went down.
The nursing home claimed that it begged for help from Florida Power and Light, and was told repeatedly that the problems would be fixed, only to have the timeline be pushed later and later. When the home had been put off by FP&L, representatives say eight calls were made between it and the Florida Department of Emergency Management, Florida Department of Health, and Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Officials say they even tried to call the Governor’s personal cellphone for help. The Governor has said that nowhere in these communications did the home say that their residents’ lives were at risk—in fact, the Governor’s office has said that in routine reports, the home said its AC was operational for days after it had been knocked out.
The county also contends that it asked the nursing home if it was OK or needed anything after the storm, and the home did not make any special requests for evacuations or mention anything about excessive heat affecting its residents.
Lawsuits Have Been Filed
A lawsuit has now been filed against the nursing home by two residents.
The first lawsuit alleges that the facility did not do enough to make sure that it was prepared to care for its residents before the storm.
The other lawsuit does not yet seek damages or liability, but rather is asking a court to require that the nursing home preserve evidence that could be vital to a liability lawsuit. The resident’s fear is that the home may lose important documentation, or even throw away equipment or items that could be evidence in a liability lawsuit.
Florida Law May Become Stronger
Florida law currently requires nursing homes to have emergency power and supplies to last 72 hours after a storm, but those laws do not specifically address temperature controls.
The Governor passed an emergency rule in response to the tragedy, requiring all nursing homes to have the ability to keep the power and air conditioning on for four days after a storm. That rule is temporary unless it is made law by the legislature.
Home Had a Poor Inspection Record
Florida law includes strict regulations that nursing homes must follow, including being subject to routine state investigations. This nursing home here had what appears to be a poor record of compliance.
One report indicated that the home had previously been cited for allowing residents to go days on end without showering, or being left in soiled undergarments. Other reports revealed that residents were fed improper diets. Medical records may have been improperly or poorly kept, and residents were found sleeping on linens that were dusty and dirty. At least one resident had just two showers in 25 days, despite being incontinent.
Those same regulations that govern nursing homes also generally allow them to keep operating so long as problems are fixed, and it appears that they were, which is why this home was even still in business.
We have written in the past about how families of those in nursing homes should be observant of their loved one’s condition as well as the condition of the facility in general. Families of those in the nursing home here say they had previously complained of mold on the ceiling, leaking air conditioners, and residents being left for days without being bathed.
Facilities Must Care for Residents
Florida’s nursing home laws have a special patient “bill of rights” which spell out how residents are to be treated and which hold nursing homes to high standards of care. These laws exist in recognition of the often helpless nature of residents and the dependence they have on caretakers.
A special bill of rights is not needed to find liability against nursing homes. Any facility that cares for, treats, and undertakes the duty to provide life services for others, has a special, heightened duty to act responsibly. These may include schools that look after children, prisons that look after inmates, and hospitals that care for patients.
Make sure your loved ones are being cared for in nursing homes and look for any sign of neglect or abuse. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation if you believe that a family member may be a victim of nursing home abuse.