At Florida nursing home, many calls for help, but none that made a difference

After the home lost power for its air conditioning, 11 of its residents died. A review of what happened discovered a preventable descent into chaos.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The emergency room workers at Memorial Regional Hospital rushed the first patient to Room 9, which was devoted to the hope and practice of arresting death. They threaded fluid lines into her veins and readied a breathing tube. Even through gloves, they could feel the heat corseting the 84-year-old woman’s body.

As they prepared to insert a catheter, they saw what looked like steam rising from her legs.

The numbers on the catheter’s temperature gauge would not stop climbing. The nurses, respiratory technicians and other medical staff watched it halt at 41.9 degrees Celsius — 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

It was only the fourth-highest body temperature Memorial would record that morning among elderly patients being evacuated from the nursing home nearby, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where air conditioning had failed after Hurricane Irma chewed up power lines across the state.

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Eight residents of the nursing home were dead by the end of that day, Sept. 13, and three who were among the 140 evacuated have died since. The Hollywood police have opened a criminal investigation, while the state has all but shut down the residence.

That same day, about 160 other nursing homes across Florida had no electricity, and most had no generator capable of powering air conditioning. But of all those places, the only one where a power loss is known to have caused multiple deaths was the home that advertised being “directly across the street from Hollywood’s Memorial Regional Hospital — so patients receive the finest health care day and night.”

Interviews with nursing-home representatives, hospital personnel, residents’ families and government officials, as well as a review of emergency-response records, show a preventable descent into the suffocating chaos of that early morning.

The nursing home’s state-approved emergency plan was confounded by a foreseeable electrical failure. The home said its repeated requests for help from state and county officials, and to the power company, yielded no results.

Gov. Rick Scott and other state and local officials say they never had any indication from Hollywood Hills that residents were in distress, though records show that a facility that…

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