Authorities said Friday that a 12th patient from the South Florida nursing home that lost power after Hurricane Irma has died.
Dolores Biamonte, 57, died Thursday, according to police in Hollywood, Fla.
Biamonte’s death came more than two weeks after the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a nursing home not far from Fort Lauderdale, was evacuated after it overheated during widespread power outages caused by Hurricane Irma. State authorities have said that patients from the nursing home were found to have body temperatures as high as 109.9 degrees after the situation there deteriorated, including the loss of the facility’s air conditioning.
Police opened a criminal investigation into the nursing home and police are “treating all deaths from this facility as part of the criminal investigation” unless the medical examiner‘s office tells them otherwise, Miranda Grossman, a spokeswoman for the Hollywood police, said in a statement.
Millions of homes and businesses, including dozens of nursing homes, lost power in Florida after Irma tore across the state earlier this month. The outages were viewed as an acute threat to Florida’s substantial population of elderly residents, since older people are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
The deaths in Hollywood were the grim realization of those fears. Nursing home executives have defended their actions after the storm, saying that they reached out repeatedly to Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Florida Power and Light, the utility giant that powers half of the state, pleading for help that never arrived after the power failed.
Florida Power and Light has expressed sympathy for those who died but released a statement saying it is "limited in what we can say" due to the investigation.
The nursing home’s account has been contradicted in some key areas by local and state authorities. Local police disputed the nursing home’s description of the 911 calls made as the situation turned dire, while the state has assailed the nursing home for what it described as “egregious” failures.
Last week, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration issued an emergency order suspending the nursing home’s license.
In a blistering statement, the state agency said the nursing home’s employees “overwhelmingly delayed calling 911” and then were too slow to evacuate patients to the sprawling, air-conditioned hospital across the street.
The health-care agency also said that officials with the nursing home added entries to patients’ medical records after the incident, which they said give a false depiction of the deteriorating situation there.
According to the state, one of the late entries noted that a “patient was resting in bed with respirations even and unlabored.” However, the state said, “this resident had already died before this entry was made.” In another case, a nurse logged a patient as having a temperature of 101.6 degrees, even while that same patient already was in a hospital with a recorded temperature of 108.3 degrees.
Lawyers for the nursing home have filed a lawsuit arguing that the facility followed its emergency preparedness plans and seeking to fight a moratorium on patient admissions.