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After Deaths During Hurricane Irma, Florida Requiring Changes For Nursing Homes


Before 2017 comes to a close, we're revisiting some of the notable news stories of the year. You might remember back in September, Hurricane Irma struck Florida, knocking out power for millions across the state.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: For some, it could be a matter of life or death. Six people at a nursing home in Broward County, Fla., have died after their facility lost power during the storm. Authorities say three residents were found dead at the rehabilitation center at Hollywood Hills.

FRAYER: In all, 14 nursing home residents died, most after they were evacuated to a nearby hospital. Twelve of those deaths have been ruled homicides. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Miami to update us on this story and the criminal investigation that has followed. Hi, Greg.


FRAYER: First, remind us what happened at that nursing home right after Hurricane Irma hit.

ALLEN: Well, this is a nursing home in Hollywood, Fla., just south of Fort Lauderdale, which had about 150 residents. The power remained on at the nursing home after the storm, but the power was knocked out to its air-conditioning system. So over the next two days, the staff there put out portable cooling units and fans throughout the building. By the early morning of the third day without power, however, the heat was somewhat bad in there, and several residents began showing signs of distress. By 6 a.m. that morning - that was Wednesday - police and emergency medical technicians arrived and began evacuating residents to the hospital, which was just across the street. But eight residents died that day, and six more died later.

FRAYER: And months on, where does the investigation into those deaths stand?

ALLEN: Well, the police began a criminal investigation immediately after those deaths. And a few weeks ago, the medical examiner in Broward County ruled that 12 of those deaths were homicides from heat exposure. We've also had some investigations that are going on in Congress looking into this since they regulate health care. There's also now some - several lawsuits going on, wrongful death lawsuits brought by family members of those who died, but the investigation is the one we're watching, and that will be going on for some time.

FRAYER: And how about the nursing home? Did it reopen? Are people still living there?

ALLEN: No, it did not reopen. They revoked the license of the home shortly thereafter. And the lawyers are fighting that. They're trying to say now that they followed all the state - all the rules that the state had in place. They had an emergency management plan in place and that - they say that they made several calls to the power authority, the state officials, including the governor, requesting help getting the power back to - restore the air-conditioning unit beforehand. And those calls were not answered. And so they are trying to point the finger at the power authority and local officials for not restoring power more quickly. That's why they're saying they should get their license back.

FRAYER: And finally, where does this leave people, families, with loved ones in Florida nursing homes? Do they have any assurance that this will not happen again the next time a hurricane hits Florida?

ALLEN: Well, right after the hurricane, Florida Governor Scott issued an emergency order requiring all nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to have emergency backup generators and enough fuel for four days after a power outage. Nursing homes have largely complied. Some have fought with the governor over the timetable, but many have already installed backup generators and others are getting ready to do so. We've got a number of bills in the upcoming legislative session that are going to be looking at these issues, including creating an independent investigative office that will police nursing homes in the state.

FRAYER: And we'll be following that. That's NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thank you for the update, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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