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Eight Dead After Irma Knocks Out Nursing Home Air Conditioning

Nursing Home Air ConditioningEight seniors tragically died in a Florida nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which had purportedly knocked out the facility’s air conditioning. While the matter is still being investigated by authorities, the incident offers a look into the legal requirements for nursing home air conditioning – and how failure to provide them may constitute actionable nursing home abuse.

After Irma: Tragedy at a Nursing Home

As you have likely seen, Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 hurricane that ravaged parts of the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States, including Florida, before finally dissipating on September 13, 2017. On September 12, according to state authorities, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, FL reportedly made a “mission-critical” request to Florida Power & Light to restore its power. Though the facility claimed had electricity thanks to a backup generator, its air-conditioning system was not functioning because a tree had fallen onto the transformer powering it. According to a statement by the Broward County Mayor’s office, when the facility was asked if it had any medical emergencies, it declined assistance.

A patient was found dead later that day and transported to an area funeral home. At approximately 3:00 a.m. the following morning, a representative from the nursing home called 911 to report a patient suffering cardiac arrest. When the fire department received two more such calls from the facility within a short period of time, additional crews were dispatched to the nursing home to investigate.

At that time, three other patients were found dead on the second floor of the nursing home, while several more were determined to be “in distress” and transported to Memorial Regional Hospital. When that hospital’s chief nursing officer found that the patients suffered from “extraordinarily high” temperatures, she went to the nursing home for further inspection. After discovering still more patients in distress and noting the “unbearable heat” due to a lack of sufficient nursing home air conditioning, she triggered a mass-casualty alert.

All 141 remaining nursing home patients were evacuated from the facility and evaluated by hospital staff and paramedics. Four of the evacuees subsequently died in hospitals, bringing the 24-hour death total to eight. While the official cause of death for the patients, ages 71 to 99, has not been determined at this time, but authorities have described the deaths as “heat-related.”

The Hollywood Police Department has launched a criminal investigation into the matter, while the Department of Children & Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration have begun investigations of their own. In the meantime, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has ordered that Medicaid funds to The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills be terminated.

Duties of a Nursing Home

Investigations into this tragic incident are still ongoing, and the facts of the case, much less any culpability, have yet to be fully determined. It is worth noting, however, that this incident foregrounds the duties that nursing homes owe to our seniors.

Americans are living longer, and with this longevity comes the need for long-term care facilities, or nursing homes, live-in residences that assist our seniors with their chronic illnesses. An estimated 1.4 million people are currently residing in nursing homes in America. While the majority of America’s more than 15,000 nursing homes take the care of our seniors very seriously, there are unfortunately too many that neglect our elders’ well-being, some of them in Illinois.

Among the duties of a nursing home is the responsibility to provide a clean, comfortable, and safe environment for its patients, one that will not make their already fragile conditions even worse. Failure to do so could constitute nursing home neglect or, even worse, abuse. One sign of this possible neglect is not providing proper nursing home air conditioning.

Nursing Home Air Conditioning: It’s Not a Luxury, It’s the Law!

Depending on where and how you live, you might think of air conditioning as a “luxury item.” But nursing home air conditioning is not a luxury: it’s the law! Federal regulations require nursing homes to retain room temperatures between 71 to 81 degrees. Individual states also have regulations for maintaining “adequate” temperature and humidity levels, including rules governing Illinois nursing homes.

Maintaining an appropriate temperature is especially crucial in nursing homes, where patients are already likely to be in weakened conditions. Excessive temperatures, as seems to have been the case in Florida, can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and even death. Therefore, failure to maintain appropriate temperatures within nursing homes as defined by state and federal law, or failure to take steps within a reasonable amount of time to remedy situations in which nursing home air conditioning is malfunctioning, might be classified as abuse, potentially exposing a nursing home to liability and litigation.

Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers

For more than thirty years, GWC Injury Lawyers’s Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers have been helping to fight for the rights of patients in Illinois. They are not intimidated by the insurance companies that often represent many nursing homes. Our firm is well known by many insurance agencies and has a hard-won reputation of fighting for the MAXIMUM amount of compensation for our clients.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse, contact our office today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys to see if you may be eligible for financial compensation. Call us at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.