HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (CBSNewYork/CBS Miami) — Days after Hurricane Irma passed through, the danger is still present in Florida.
As CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported, eight people at a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, just south of Fort Lauderdale have died after residents were stuck in sweltering conditions following the hurricane.
Late Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott shut down the facility, CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported.
On Wednesday morning, emergency teams descended on the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, after police received a 911 call about a heart attack at the center.
“As we arrived on the scene with our fire-rescue crews we saw that there are a number of people in respiratory distress,” city spokeswoman Raelin Storey said.
More than 100 elderly residents were evacuated from the nursing home, which lost power during the storm. Police say three patients died at the facility and the others at a hospital.
Authorities identified the residents who died as 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.
Other patients were still in the emergency room Wednesday afternoon.
“Most of the patients have been treated respiratory distress, dehydration, and heat-related issues,” said Dr. Randy Katz of Memorial Regional Hospital.
The shocking news sent family members rushing to the nursing home in search of information about their loved ones.
“I just want to know if God forbid, he’s one of the ones that passed away, or if he’s OK; where he’s at. I have no clue,” one woman said.
The deaths may be to the loss of the home’s air conditioning after Hurricane Irma hit on Sunday.
“I think it is an emerging scandal of gargantuan proportions with eighth deaths already,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida).
Police have opened a criminal investigation, looking into whether the center had electricity or was using generators in the wake of the storm.
“That’s part of the actual investigation of how cool it actually was whether it was cooling anything,” said Hollywood, Florida police Chief Tomas Sanchez.
Scott said Florida Department of Children of Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration have also begun an investigation.
Scott took to Twitter to send a harsh message about the investigation.
“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place. Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable. 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 health. I have directed the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to immediately work with local law enforcement to conduct an investigation, and 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,” he said in a statement.
The nursing home released a statement later Wednesday, calling the deaths “unfortunate and tragic.”
“The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has 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 3 fatalities at the Facility and 3 at the hospital they were transferred to,” the statement read. “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.”
But late Wednesday, city spokeswoman Storey revealed new information.
“They did have power to this facility, but the AC was not working properly,” Storey said. “They had brought in portable ac units to address the heat.”
According to federal health inspection records, the facility was rated “below average,” with only one out of five stars.
The nursing home reportedly had fans and spot coolers working, but with temperatures reaching into the 90s Tuesday and Wednesday, they may not have been enough.
“What we’ve seen is something extremely tragic,” said Rob Gould, communications director for Florida Power and Light. “It points to the need for having plans in advance when it comes to emergency preparation. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that our deepest sympathies goes out to the families of those who have lost their lives.”
It is unclear whether medical equipment like oxygen tanks and respirators, were affected by the power loss.
In recent years, the home had been cited by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration for problems with temporary generators.
As a precautionary measure, police are now checking the other 42 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the city of Hollywood.
In New York state, the Health Department said nursing homes are required to have a generator backup for use in emergencies. In New Jersey, a similar requirement will not take effect until 2019.
In Florida, the blame has also been pointed at staff for not raising concerns sooner.
“People are just absolutely shocked that someone in a staff would not know enough that a frail elderly person is dying of heat exhaustion and would at least know to dial 911,” Nelson said. “This is what is inexcusable.”
Meanwhile, across Florida, 4.4 million homes and businesses still have no power. Florida’s biggest utility lined up repair trucks in the Miami area, but officials say it could be more than a week before electricity is back for everyone.
Power outages also remained an issue in the Jacksonville area. More than 800 utility workers are trying to restore electricity to the more than 100,000 customers who began the day here with no lights or air conditioning.
Hurricane Irma first made landfall Sunday in the Florida Keys. When residents of the lower Keys are finally allowed to return they will find almost total devastation.
The Weckwerth family is working hard to get their family bar and restaurant on Islamorada open again.
“We want somewhere for people to go during this hard time. A little stress free environment,” said Kalin Weckwerth.
Most homes in the Keys have no power and there is practically no cell phone service or internet.