Nine residents of a Miami, Florida, nursing home suffered death by agonizing heat distress after Hurricane Irma interrupted the supply of electricity to the nursing home. The people who lost their lives ranged in age from 71 to 99. Many other residents were treated for dehydration, breathing difficulties and other heat related issues.
For days following the hurricane, the nursing home’s residents were left in Miami’s sweltering heat and humidity. The day after the hurricane passed, the temperature rose to 98 degrees. The fallout from this tragedy is just beginning as the deaths were entirely preventable. A criminal investigation is ongoing and civil damages are likely to exceed $10,000,000.00.
Following Hurricane Wilma in 2005, it became abundantly clear that nursing homes in the state needed to have a backup source of electricity in the event weather conditions cause an interruption of power. In 2006, legislation was proposed to require that all nursing homes in the state have generators able to cool and run their facilities. Of course, providing this level of resident safety and comfort came with a price tag. The nursing home industry successfully lobbied against the bill. Now that there has been a tragedy of this magnitude it is likely that similar legislation will pass.
It should not require legislation for nursing homes to obtain backup electrical power. Common sense dictates that the loss of air conditioning alone creates life-threatening circumstances for the elderly and infirm. If a nursing home operator is being paid to provide a safe environment for its residents, it is axiomatic that the operator should make the investment necessary to provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity.
Nursing home operators claim that they operate on slim profits due to the limited amount they receive from the Medicare and Medicaid programs. However, for the most part, this is not the case. While balance sheets can make it look like there is little profit to the nursing home owners, many of the listed “expenses” for rent, consulting services, and management services are paid to corporations owned by the same people that own the nursing home itself. With the average nursing home profiting well over $1,0000,000.00 per year, there are certainly enough funds to finance a backup generator system.
It is my hope that the families of these victims obtain a full measure of civil justice. With large payments to the families, perhaps this nursing home operator and others will realize that, even if they do not feel morally obligated to provide a safe environment, the short term financial savings in not doing so are outweighed by the legal claims that result. Continue reading