Florida nursing home victim told friend ‘I can’t breathe’ day before she died

Police in Hollywood, Florida, are investigating the deaths of eight nursing home patients after Hurricane Irma damaged the facility’s air conditioning system, subjecting its residents to the sweltering September heat.

A warrant has been signed to begin searching the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which is affiliated with Larkin Community Hospital, and a criminal investigation is underway.

The city first “became [aware] a crisis was unfolding at the facility after multiple calls in the early morning hours” Wednesday, city spokesperson Raelin Storey said this morning. Of the eight patient deaths, seven occurred Wednesday. The first occurred Tuesday at the facility; that individual had a “do not resuscitate” order and the deceased was transferred to a funeral home, but authorities have now retrieved the body.

Hollywood Fire Rescue crews responded to the nursing home for a call at about 3 a.m. Wednesday regarding a patient who was reportedly in cardiac arrest. That patient was transported to a hospital, police said.

At 4 a.m., firefighters were sent back to the facility to transport a patient reportedly experiencing breathing problems, police said. After the second call, fire officials called the state Department of Children and Families to report concerns about the facility.

A third call later came in as well, police said. After additional crews arrived, three patients were found dead on the second floor of the nursing home, and several other patients were found to be in “varying degrees of medical distress,” authorities said.

The nursing home eventually evacuated all of its patients Wednesday morning at the order of the responding crews.

Hurricane Irma knocks out air conditioning at the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Fla.

‘What a price to pay’

One of the eight deceased was Betty Hibbard, 84. Her caregiver and friend of 63 years, Jean Johnson, told ABC News she visited Hibbard at the nursing home on Tuesday and described it as being very hot inside, with patients sitting in the hallway with fans or portable air conditioning units.

Johnson, 83, said her friend was one those in the hallway. She said Hibbard told her, “I can’t breathe.”

“Over the years there’s been several times that we came over and it would be awfully warm in there,” Johnson said. “I never had to wear a coat in there ever.”

Johnson added that if Hibbard had been at home, she would’ve called 911 but since this was a nursing home she…

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