Air conditioning broke down often at the Florida nursing home where eight elderly people died last week in the sweltering aftermath of Hurricane Irma, a former senior employee said.
Cristina Bichachi, the former business development director at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, told the Associated Press that the air conditioning went on the fritz “many, many times” during the three years she worked there.
Nursing home owner Jack Michel never replaced the system, Bichachi said. Michel’s attorney didn’t respond to AP’s request for comment.
Bichachi, who quit over a year ago, said the AC often shut down for two or three days at a time, baking the air in the 152-bed facility.
Last week, the temperatures inside some patients’ rooms reportedly climbed to over 100 degrees, eventually forcing the evacuation of 145 patients and shutting the place down.
Nursing home officials blamed a blown transformer for cutting power to the air conditioning unit. The home was not entirely without power during and after Irma — but there wasn’t enough to run the air conditioning, its managers say.
Hollywood Hills’ emergency management plan, submitted to Broward County officials in July, included no provision for the loss of its air conditioning, the Miami Herald reported Saturday.
The home also had serious issues with the maintenance and testing of its emergency generator, as well as with fire and safety standards, according to February 2016 reports by Florida state inspectors.
Nursing home administrators released a timeline that showed they called Florida Power and Light multiple times after losing the air conditioning.
They claimed the utility repeatedly said it would fix the crippled transformer, but that no one showed up until Wednesday morning, hours after the situation turned fatal.
The utility refused to answer any specific questions about the case.
Natasha Anderson, an executive at the rehab center, told the Washington Post that on Monday afternoon she made the first of three calls to a private telephone help line set up by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
“Repeatedly, I was told that our case was being escalated to the highest level,” Anderson said. “We were waiting and waiting for help that never came.”
Key points of the nursing-home’s account are contradicted by law enforcement and state officials, the Washington Post reported, including how aggressively the staff sought assistance and precisely when staffers called 911 as a patient went into cardiac arrest.
The deaths are under investigation as criminal homicides.
The air conditioning came back on around 2 p.m. Wednesday, when the only people left at the facility were detectives.