Preparedness & Recovery

Sweltering Nursing Homes Draw Pleas for Help to Keep Residents Cool

It wasn’t the only nursing home in Palm Beach County where residents sweltered in heat because of power outages caused by Hurricane Irma.

by Joe Capozzi and Matt Morgan, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / September 14, 2017

(TNS) - When Mark Sandy saw a Facebook post on Wednesday about a Lake Worth nursing home that was without power, he went to check on a family friend who was living there. “When we showed up, the fire department was there with trucks waiting to take people away,” he said.

He walked inside and saw employees at Signature HealthCare putting cold compresses on the foreheads of elderly patients, wheelchairs lined up down the hall and a man lying on a mattress on the floor.

“It was extremely hot and humid. It was rough to see elderly people in those conditions,” Sandy said. “The staff was working their butts off to make them comfortable. They deserve credit. The problem is they didn’t have sufficient equipment.”

The evacuation started, Sandy said, only after a paramedic had arrived on a medical call. “When he saw the deplorable conditions, he called for backup.”

Earlier in the day, eight people died at a Broward County nursing home in Hollywood. “I realize now after seeing what I saw (in Lake Worth) how that could happen,” Sandy said.

It wasn’t the only nursing home in Palm Beach County where residents sweltered in heat because of power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall Sunday.

Jennifer Greco did a welfare check Wednesday on a friend’s grandmother and said she was horrified to see elderly residents sweltering in the lobby of a Jupiter nursing home that had been without electricity since Saturday.

“Nobody looked like they were suffering, nobody called out to me. They were just sitting there with the look in their eyes like, ‘I’m just miserable,’’’ Greco said after visiting Courtyards Garden nursing home on Indian Creek Parkway.

So, Greco posted on Facebook an “urgent need” for battery-operated fans at the facility. She even went to CVS and bought the last fan in the store.

“You can’t cool 25 people in a room with a tower fan, especially if they’re in a wheelchair or on the other side of the room,’’ she said. “I’m just trying to find people, if they have fans they’re not using, to bring it there.’’

A Courtyards Garden employee who wouldn’t give her name told a reporter that the 120-bed facility has one air-conditioned room powered by a generator that residents can use. The employee said none of the residents is in peril.

“We are well-equipped with food, water and everything in between. The only thing we need is air,’’ she said, adding that some family members have picked up loved ones since the storm passed.

Of the more than 300 nursing homes in the county, seven have reported problems due to a lack of power, including generators that malfunctioned, said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department.

While that may sound like a small percentage, it’s still unacceptable when considering the frailty of the residents, O’Connor said. But he said the seven facilities lacking electricity have either gotten generators or transferred patients to other facilities.

O’Connor said the county Wednesday was prepared to dispatch ambulances to pick up clients from nursing homes and take them to the county-run special-needs shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds, but no request was made.

“We don’t anticipate the kind of situation that unfolded in Hollywood, but you can never say never,’’ he said.

Janice Dougherty, 84, of the Christian Manor senior living apartments in West Palm Beach, said the community on Executive Center Drive was still without power Wednesday night and the property’s management didn’t use generators on the site.

“It’s about 95 degrees in here,’’ said Dougherty, who said she has ovarian cancer.

On The Palm Beach Post’s Hurricane Irma Facebook page, Cindy R. Morrone-DiVincent, who said she runs a nursing home in Stuart, claimed that a West Palm Beach facility had no air conditioning and temperatures over 90 degrees. A call to the facility was not immediately returned.

There were other issues with nursing homes not related to a lack of electricity.

As Hurricane Irma roared through South Florida, a frantic woman from California who was trying to check on her elderly mother called Palm Beach County’s Emergency Operations Center because no one was answering the phone at her mother’s nursing home in Lantana.

Turned out her mother was safe at a shelter at Park Vista High School. She’d been dropped off there with 27 other elderly residents, many of them in wheelchairs and walkers, by The Carlisle Palm Beach.

But no staff from the Carlisle stayed with their clients at the shelter, leaving many retirees, some in their 90s and 100s, at the mercy of county and School District employees who for the first time were in charge of supervising hurricane shelters, a job previously done by the American Red Cross.

When The Post contacted The Carlisle seeking comment about the concerns, a person at the switchboard passed the call to a man who hung up after saying: “We have no one at the shelters right now. Everyone’s been taken care of. Thank you.’’

At MorseLife Health System’s facility in West Palm Beach, Chief Executive Officer Keith Myers said all nursing homes are supposed to do monthly checks on equipment, including generators, to make sure they’re working properly.

“They should’ve tested them and had a plan. It was their responsibility,’’ he said.

Myers said Morselife, on Haverhill Road just south of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, would’ve taken in residents from other nursing homes.

“We plan and we take it very seriously,’’ he said. “When you have even one life in your hands, you need to make sure you have all your systems in place.’’

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©2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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