Emergency workers in Florida were urged to check on vulnerable individuals living in nursing homes after eight people died in a sweltering hot facility that lot its air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. The deaths sent a chill across the state, where about 4 million elderly and disabled citizens are living in nursing homes– individuals who are vulnerable to circumstances like power outages that are still affecting millions in the state.
Questions still remain about the nine deaths were reported at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a facility located just steps from a hospital. The home reported losing power on Tuesday but never requested help when asked by Broward County officials whether patients had medical needs or emergencies.
Early Wednesday, however, firefighters responded to three calls about patients in distress at the Rehabilitation Center, and subsequently went door-to-door where they found three residents dead. That’s when more than 150 patients were evacuated to hospitals where they were treated for dehydration, breathing difficulties and other heat-related problems. Within hours, five more residents had died.
Family members of residents said they were never contacted by the nursing home that the power was out or that residents were in distress or had died.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez. A criminal investigation is underway. The Rehabilitation Center had a poor record and ranked “much below average” on a federal nursing home website.
Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed a new rule that would deny funding to nursing homes that did not stop requiring new residents to sign forced arbitration agreements, which force residents and their family members to waive their Constitutional right to a trial by jury in the event of elder abuse, sexual harassment or wrongful death.
However, the nursing home industry is fighting this rule, which was to have gone into effect last fall. The Trump administration proposed a revision to the rule that stops short of banning forced arbitration. It simply requires the arbitration clause to be written in plain English and thoroughly explained to patients and their family members.
“The Trump administration apparently thinks it is OK for nursing homes to force seniors into signing contract terms that give up their right to sue in court if they are subsequently victimized by neglect or abuse,” said Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen. “It’s hard to imagine a more callous policy.”