Inside the Florida nursing home where several died during Hurricane Irma, it was 99 degrees

Megan O'Matz, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Weather News

An administrative law judge will consider all sides of the argument in hearings set to begin in late January in Fort Lauderdale.

A number of survivors and families of the dead are suing the nursing home, alleging that administrators did not properly prepare for the disaster or react to the dangerous conditions.

Some lawsuits claim the nursing home was understaffed and residents found their pleas for water went unanswered. At the time, the city of Hollywood was under a boil water advisory. The nursing home had limited power from a generator to run lights and some equipment, but not the air conditioning.

In one lawsuit, survivor Clarice Damas, 86, claims the facility was "severely understaffed" and residents "ignored" or "forgotten." She contended the nursing home did not have enough ice and she asked for water and a fan but did not get it.

The facility's director of nursing -- the top supervisor -- left the building Monday Sept. 11, the day after the hurricane, and did not return until Wednesday, Sept. 13, the day all the residents were being evacuated.

She told state regulators that she recalled the home having seven nurses on duty during the overnight shift when people began dying. Of those, three were highly skilled registered nurses and four were licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, who have lesser training.

But the home was short on nurses' aides. Only five were on duty for a building with more than 140 residents, the director told the health care regulators. Experts contacted by the Sun Sentinel said there should have been three times as many working then.

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Nurses' aides provide most of the basic care to nursing home residents. They get them up, dressed, washed and fed. They reposition people to prevent bed sores and take basic vital signs. They have most contact with patients but are the least trained on the nursing team.

According to the state health care administration, before she left, the director of nursing told the nurses and aides to monitor the residents frequently and to "offer water and ice every hour."

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