The image above shows just how close Hollywood Hills nursing home is (on the right) to Memorial Hospital (on the left).
Yesterday’s New York Times buried the lede in its coverage of the tragic death of eight elderly residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Fort Lauderdale. The paper included plenty of finger pointing, and included colorful quotes from distraught family members attempting to blame everyone from state regulators to utility companies. But readers have to wade through 11 paragraphs before finally uncovering one simple but damning fact that lays the blame squarely at the feet of the nursing home and its staff, where it belongs:
State officials, utility executives and the Rehabilitation Center spent Wednesday trading blame over why and how its patients were left to endure such conditions, even though state and federal regulations require nursing home residents to be evacuated if it gets too hot inside.
The last half of that sentence is all anyone needs to know about this tragedy. State and federal regulations require nursing homes to be evacuated if it gets too hot inside.
There’s a reason a criminal investigation is underway, probing exactly how the staff at Hollywood Hills could have allowed this to happen. And no amount of finger-pointing at state officials or power companies will ever excuse the failure. The facts are clear, reported in national, state and local news outlets, that the second floor of the facility was a sweltering hell-hole.
While there’s been plenty of attention on the fact that a tree blew a transformer connected to the facility’s air conditioning system, and that the power company and even city officials were notified of the problem, there is also a documented lack of urgency coming from the facility’s staff. According to a report on CNN:
The nursing home told the Broward County Emergency Operations Center that it had lost power, according to a statement by the center. A “mission-critical” request to restore power was made to Florida Power & Light. The nursing home was asked if it had any medical needs or emergencies, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said in the center’s statement. No assistance was requested.
With all of Florida’s major utility companies working overtime to restore power to millions of customers in the midst of one of the largest disaster blackouts in U.S. history, the nursing home staff had to know that despite their requests, power wasn’t likely to be restored immediately – especially given that hospitals and other critical infrastructure were higher on the priority list. According to the story, utility officials:
“…met in March with Broward County officials to discuss hurricane preparations, but that the officials had not flagged the nursing home as “top-tier” critical infrastructure that would need power first. Memorial Regional Hospital, where many residents were taken, was in the top tier.”
That last sentence is key. The hospital is literally right across the street from the nursing home. If the nursing home staff had any serious concerns about the health of their residents, wouldn’t it make sense to simply evacuate them across the street?
But that’s not what happened. Instead, according to news reports, the staff didn’t take any action until the first patient exhibited signs of cardiac arrest. The staff called 911, then an hour later, staffers noticed a second patient with breathing problems. But rather than recognize the wider scope of the problem, the facility allegedly treated it as an isolated incident, and then repeated that same sequence of events a third time – apparently still not recognizing the seriousness of the situation.
According to CNN, it was the Fire Department that was forced to take action:
A third 911 call came in for yet another patient transport — this time prompting the fire department to send more crews to the nursing home to investigate. In addition to the resident taken to a funeral home on Tuesday, three others were found dead on the second floor of the nursing home, and several others were in distress.