Trump praises Florida first responders for Irma effort

Residents are evacuated from the powerless Hollywood Hills Nursing Home 1200 N 35th Ave. on Wednesday morning

Residents are evacuated from the powerless Hollywood Hills Nursing Home 1200 N 35th Ave. on Wednesday morning. CAITLIN OSTROFF Miami Herald

Eight people died at a nursing home in the US state of Florida after its air conditioning system was knocked out by Hurricane Irma, authorities said Wednesday.

The shocking news that eight people who were residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Fla., died at the facility in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma has sparked many questions about how such a thing could happen.

President Donald Trump is making a political pitch for Republican Gov. Rick Scott while in Florida to survey hurricane damage from Irma.

Detailing the problems identified this week by the Agency for Health Care Administration, member station WLRN reports, "In its complaint, the healthcare agency said that on September 10 the rehab center 'became aware that its air conditioning equipment had ceased to operate effectively.'".

"This was a large, extremely risky catastrophic hurricane", National Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Wednesday, when he declared the storm over.

The ex-husband of 71-year-old victim Gail Nova said her devastated family believes the facility should lose its license.

Exactly how the deaths happened was under investigation, with Sanchez saying authorities have not ruled anything out, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Older people can be more susceptible to heat because their bodies do not adjust to temperatures as well as young people.

The facility has had a spotty inspection record, earning a "below average" grade Medicare's nursing home rating system.

The latter figure doesn't include the nursing home deaths, which police said were under investigation.

"It's a sad state of affairs", the police chief said.

"At first it's like, 'We're safe, thank God.' Now they're testy", he said. Then, police responded to a 911 call and found three people dead and others in struggling health.

The facility is not the only Florida nursing home that has been left without power by Irma.

The overall death toll from the storm climbed to 81 on Wednesday, with several hard-hit Caribbean islands accounting for more than half the fatalities, and officials continued to assess damage inflicted by the second major hurricane to strike the US mainland this year. The death toll across the Caribbean stood at 38. A Tampa man died after the chain saw he was using to remove branches kicked back and cut his carotid artery. By that afternoon, five more had died.

"Most of the patients have been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues", Randy Katz, a spokesman for Memorial Regional Hospital, told reporters. County officials released documents showing that the Hollywood facility was in compliance with that regulation and that it held a hurricane drill with its staff in October. Police officials said other patients were in critical care.

It's unclear whether the facility was without any power or just without air conditioning.

While almost all of Florida was engulfed by the 400-mile-wide (645-kilometer) storm, the Keys - home to about 70,000 people - appeared to be the hardest hit.

"I think family members are going to start paying more attention to previous surveys", Martinez says, noting that the Hollywood Hills facility had a reported history of generator issues.

Late Wednesday, Florida Power & Light reported that almost 442,000 of its 1.1 million customers in Miami-Dade County were still without power.

While hurricanes have made headlines over the last few weeks, Garfunkel Wild partner Michael Stone tells Skilled Nursing News that regulators won't care about the type of potential disaster - only that nursing homes are prepared. The center immediately contacted Florida Power & Light and continued to follow up with them for status updates on when repairs would be made.

A lineman from Arkansas was shocked by electricity and badly burned while assisting with power restoration efforts in Georgia, officials said Thursday.

"There were a number of very sick people".

Still, the dangers lingered, mostly in the form of noxious gas from generators serving those who still don't have power. And at the huge, 15,000-resident Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines, where there were also widespread outages, rescue workers went door to door in the 94-degree heat checking on residents and bringing ice, water and meals.

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