A 10th person from the Hollywood nursing home that turned into a deadly hothouse when its air conditioning lost power after Hurricane Irma has died, police said.
Hollywood police said Martha Murray, 94, died Wednesday. She joined nine others, including 93-year-old Carlos Canal, another several-days-later victim, who fell ill after power partially went out at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and portable air coolers failed to prevent the facility from overheating.
Efforts to reach members of Murray’s family were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.
In a statement Wednesday, the state Agency for Health Care Administration said at least eight of the residents at the home died after not receiving proper medical attention. The Broward County Office of the Medical Examiner has not yet released official causes of death for any of the victims, pending toxicology tests, it said in a statement.
But that hasn’t stopped authorities from asking — and casting blame — about how more than a hundred patients could be left indoors with spot coolers that failed to ward off the tropical heat, instead of evacuating them to Memorial Regional Hospital’s emergency room, which did not lose power and was right next door.
The nursing home lost power shortly after Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida on Sept. 10, cutting electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the region. The facility had a backup generator that was not connected to its air conditioning system and so brought in eight portable coolers, along with fans in the hallways, to keep down the temperature.
The home, according to a time line released by its officials, said the facility called Florida Power & Light about six hours later to report the outage, and that it tried to reach Gov. Rick Scott on his cellphone.
FPL declined to comment on the alleged call, but said in a statement that “a portion of the facility did, in fact, have power [and] 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.”
Nursing home officials said after reaching out to FPL and the governor they called 911 three times on Sept. 13: at 3 a.m., 4:30 a.m and finally at 5:43 a.m. But by the time first responders arrived at the nursing home that Wednesday morning, several residents had already suffered respiratory arrest or cardiac distress and some had died.
About 145 patients were eventually evacuated, many in wheelchairs or stretchers, police said.
Eight residents – Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Betty Hibbard, 84; Manuel Mario Mendieta, 96; Gail Nova, 71; Bobby Owens, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99 – were dead by the end of the day. Canal, the ninth victim from the nursing home, died Tuesday morning.
A week after the sweltering conditions were discovered, and a day after Canal’s death, the state revoked the nursing home’s license.
In a statement, the Agency for Health Care Administration asserted that nursing home administrators added several late entries to residents’ medical records.
“This includes a facility nurse recording a patient’s temperature at 101.6 degrees, but the patient was actually no longer at the facility, and had a recorded temperature 108.3 by the hospital,” it said. “In a second, and very egregious case, a late entry was added that stated the patient was resting in bed with respirations even and unlabored, however, this resident had already died before this entry was made.”
AHCA and the Department of Children & Families are conducting administrative reviews of the nursing home. AHCA had already suspended the nursing home’s participation in Medicaid and Medicare, which most long-term care facilities rely on for funding, and ordered a moratorium on new patients.
The facility is also being investigated by the Hollywood Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE announced Thursday it had set up a tip line for anyone with information about the deaths or the nursing home from Sept. 9 to Sept. 13. Those who do are encouraged to call (866) 452-3461.
Miami Herald writer Caitlin Ostroff contributed to this report.