MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In the 36 hours prior to the first patient dying at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, nursing home executives called Florida Gov. Rick Scott's cell phone asking for help getting their power back on after Hurricane Irma, CBS4 News has learned.
Eight people would eventually die from the facility that lost air conditioning during the storm.
In the week leading up to Irma, Gov. Scott held a series of conference calls with emergency managers as well as hospital and nursing home officials. During those conference calls he gave out a cell phone number and said if any of the healthcare centers experienced trouble they should call him at that number and he would work to resolve their problem.
Hurricane Irma hit South Florida Sunday and the nursing home lost some power around 3 p.m. The 152-bed facility located in Hollywood, Florida, has two transformers supplying power to the nursing home. One transformer handles life and safety systems while the second supports the air conditioning system. The storm only knocked out power to the air conditioning system.
On Sunday, at 3:49 p.m., administrators contacted Florida Power and Light with an emergency request to restore power. According to nursing home officials, FPL said they would have crews dispatched the next morning.
By Monday evening, after repeated calls to FPL, a senior official with the nursing home, Natasha Anderson, called the cell phone number provided by Scott. It went straight to voicemail. Anderson left a message, saying the nursing home needed "immediate assistance" from FPL to reset the transformer for their air conditioning, according to a nursing home official who spoke to CBS4 News.
The Governor's Office says the call was returned by someone from the state Department of Health and that the nursing home was told that if they had anyone in distress they should call 911 for help.
The nursing home also spoke to the emergency operations center in Tallahassee, which notified the nursing home that their FPL repair order would be "escalated."
Tuesday, however, saw no change. Repeated phone calls to FPL brought more promises that went unmet from the utility to come out and repair the power line, according to nursing home officials. Growing concerned, Anderson placed two more calls to what she believed was the Governor's cell phone – one call at 9:59 a.m. and another at 12:41 p.m.
Later that afternoon, at 4:41 p.m., a representative from the state's Agency for Healthcare Administration, called the nursing home for an update on how they were doing. Nursing home officials again complained they were in need of help from FPL.
One nursing home official estimated that executives at the nursing home placed as many as 50 calls to FPL during the three days they were without power for their air conditioning system.
Wednesday morning starting around 1 a.m., a series of calls went to 911 from the nursing home, as patients began to falter. By 5 a.m., several patients at the nursing home were dead, and by 6 a.m. the rest were evacuated.
In response to CBS4's story, Gov. Rick Scott's office released this statement Friday evening:
"Every call made to the Governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health and quickly returned."
The Governor's Office also denies that at any time did the nursing home state their patients were at risk or experiencing health problems.
The Florida Department of Health also responded to the story.
"The tragic and senseless loss at Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center is the subject of a criminal homicide investigation by law enforcement," the DOH noted. "Let's be clear – this facility is located across the street from one of Florida's largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities. It is 100 percent the responsibility of healthcare professionals to preserve life by acting in the best interest of the health and well-being of their patients."
FPL spokesman Peter Robbins released a statement Friday as well, that read in part, "What we know now is that a portion of the facility did, in fact, have power, that there was a hospital with power across the parking lot from this facility and that the nursing home was required to have a permanently installed, operational generator."
Robbins' statement goes on: "In March, we met with Broward county officials to identify top critical facilities that require priority power restoration. While this nursing home was given a level of priority, in working with county officials, other critical facilities, such as hospitals and 911 centers, were identified as higher priorities. As we emphasized before, during and after Hurricane Irma, we urge our customers who have electricity dependent medical needs, and who don't have power to call 911, if it is a life-threatening situation."
Gov. Scott announced Thursday the Center will no longer receive state Medicaid funds. Scott said the state has had multiple points of contact with the facility before the Wednesday's deaths. He said at no time did the facility communicate any imminent threats to its patients.
Several other nursing homes were evacuated because of a lack of power or air conditioning, and workers scrambled to keep patients cool with emergency stocks of ice and Popsicles.
Older people can be more susceptible to heat because their bodies do not adjust to temperatures as well as younger people. They don't sweat as much and they are more likely to take medication that affects body temperature.
At the time of the deaths at the Hollywood Hills nursing home, nearly 150 other nursing homes were without power.
At least 56 of Florida's 639 nursing homes are still without power, according to CBS News.
When FPL finally did arrive at the Hollywood Hills nursing home Wednesday, after the patients had died, it took FPL workers approximately 20 minutes to get the nursing home back up and running.
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