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Eight Dead From Sweltering Nursing Home In What Appear to Be Preventable Deaths

Moving people out of harm’s way is the first priority when a hurricane approaches a populated area. In most cases, meteorologists are able to provide advance warning but their ability to predict the specific path of a hurricane remains limited. 

Unfortunately, those who are unable to evacuate from the path of major storms are usually forced to “shelter in place.” This is often the case with nursing homes, where residents’ mobility and health issues preclude an orderly evacuation. 

Thirty-five residents of St. Rita’s nursing home died during hurricane Katrina in 2005. The facility sat on low ground in a flood zone and was particularly susceptible to flooding. Bedridden patients drowned when the area was inundated and some residents survived only because their plastic-coated mattresses proved buoyant. Critics blasted the owners for not evacuating a vulnerable facility and they were charged with negligent homicide. The trial ended in their acquittal, but this tragic event remains etched on the national consciousness. 

Now authorities in Florida are seeking answers for a similar incident that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Irma. As reported by CNN, eight residents of the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, Florida, perished during Hurricane Irma. In this case, the facility was stocked with water, food, supplies, portable air conditioners and fans. Despite these preparations, the facility’s air conditioning system failed after the transformer was knocked out by a fallen tree and staff were unable to cope with the sweltering heat. 

This extreme heat may have played a major role in the deaths. Residents had been forced to congregate in hallways near the portable cooling units. The first 911 call was placed at 3 a.m. on Wednesday for a patient suffering cardiac arrest. By the end of the morning, the facility had been evacuated. By the time the facility was cleared, three deceased residents were found on the second floor and four other residents had died in local hospitals. Governor Rick Scott has ordered a full investigation. 

Heat exhaustion can pose a serious threat to anyone and there are strategies that can reduce the dangers posed by heat-related illness. It causes an average 700 deaths a year. Almost 70 percent of these deaths happen at home and 91 percent of those homes do not have air conditioning. Most of the people who die in these circumstances are single or alone, but the tragedy in Florida demonstrates that even trained caregivers can be overwhelmed in certain situations. 

You are most prone to suffering heat stress if you’re elderly, have high blood pressure or work or exercise in a hot environment. Humidity can play a major role as it impacts your body's ability to evaporate sweat and cool your core temperature.
Heat stress may move quickly from cramps to heat exhaustion and into heat stroke. It’s important to be diligent and evaluate your symptoms and the symptoms of people around you. Early treatment and immediate help can prevent heat stroke and the resulting damage to organs, tissues and your brain.

You may want to build simple reflective surfaces to fit your windows to deflect sunlight in the summer. Wrap aluminum foil around cardboard cut to fit your window. Anchor it between window dressings and the window to deflect the sun and reduce the heat absorption in your home. You may want to use this in the rooms you sit in the most. Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes. Coconut water can also help as you will want to replace the fluid lost from sweat in the heat, supporting your body's cooling mechanism to prevent heat stress.