Eight elderly patients died after being left inside a stifling south Florida nursing home that lost power during Hurricane Irma, officials said on Wednesday, prompting a criminal investigation that has compounded a mounting loss of life from the storm.
Eight residents died at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after the facility lost air conditioning.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has a health inspection rating of "much below average" by the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, which evaluates all long-term care facilities in the state for the USA government.
Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief confirmed three people were pronounced dead at the facility. One of the deaths occurred on Tuesday, a city official said.
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.
Authorities evacuated more than 100 patients from the nursing home.
The Florida Health Care Association, an industry group, said it was informed that 64 of the state's 683 nursing homes did not have full power services restored as of Thursday morning.
Police also started evacuating 79 residents of another nursing home in North Miami Beach on Wednesday, citing similar safety concerns about lack of air conditioning.
On Key West, at the end of the archipelago, hundreds of residents who had refused evacuation orders lined up on Wednesday outside the island's Salvation Army outpost for water and military-style rations after enduring days of intense heat with little water, power or contact with the outside world.
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The Hollywood center where the deaths occurred had earned a "below average" mark of two out of five stars from the nursing home rating system for Medicare, the US health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, Medicare records showed.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he would "aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place". Federal prosecutors said that Michel received kickbacks as part of the deal and that some of the patients came from assisted living facilities that he owned. More than 150 people were evacuated, many suffering from respiratory issues, dehydration and heat-related problems, according to Memorial Regional Hospital spokesman Randy Katz.
The nursing home did have a generator, but it is unclear if the generator was functional, WSVN reported.
Video from above the scene shows the buildings residents sitting on wheelchairs outside the nursing home.
In Hollywood, the Rehabilitation Center said the hurricane had knocked out a transformer that powered the air conditioning.
Among the state's almost 700 nursing facilities, about 150 lacked power as of Wednesday morning, said the Florida Health Care Association, which represents most of the homes.