During a disaster like a hurricane, healthcare facilities face enormous challenges in keeping patients safe during the storm and afterward—especially if the power goes out. Eight residents in a skilled nursing facility in Hollywood, Florida died last week when the facility went without air conditioning in the extreme heat. There was not enough power to run the air conditioning system even though the facility did not lose power completely. The deaths are likely heat-related and a criminal investigation is currently underway.
After a number of deaths in nursing facilities and hospitals during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, healthcare facilities began to prepare better for disasters like hurricanes. They did this in response to new regulations and of their own volition to keep patients safe in the event of an emergency. Many upgraded their generators. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills had a generator and did not lose power completely, but was not able to operate its air conditioning system. It is not clear if the problem was an insufficient generator or a blown transformer, or both.
A generator is part of a sound emergency plan for a hospital or nursing facility, but an evacuation plan is essential as well. The residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills evacuated residents only after the deaths, despite having a nearby hospital with functional air conditioning. Instead, nursing facility staff used fans and ice to try to keep the residents cool. The investigation is ongoing and it is not yet clear why residents were not evacuated sooner. Florida governor Rick Scott is calling for the nursing facility to lose its status as a Medicaid provider and the funding that goes with it. If this happens, it is likely that the facility will not be able to keep its doors open.
As a committed healthcare partner, and as people with our own aging loved ones, our hearts are broken for the families and friends of those who died in this tragedy. We send our condolences to you.
We also extend our deep appreciation to all of the hospitals and nursing facilities that learned from the past and implemented plans into place to keep patients safe. Because of your careful planning and good judgment, many have survived these storms. We are grateful that they will have the care they need during what may be a long period of recovery.