In the space of less than three weeks, two unprecedented natural disasters
have caused billions of dollars in damages to the states of Texas and
Florida. Among the facilities that suffered the most damage health care
institutions such as hospitals, “free-standing” outpatient
centers, and nursing homes were among the hardest hit. While some centers,
such as Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, were able to
evacuate without loss of life that was directly linked to the evacuation,
other facilities were not as fortunate.
In this post, the
Nursing Home Abuse lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm will explain how failure to plan for natural disasters can lead to liability
of health care facilities for any injuries or deaths that could have been
averted if adequate planning measures had been in place at the time a
Background: Heat-related deaths in the elderly
As early as 1994, G.M. Brody wrote an article in the respected medical journal
Clinical Geriatric Medicine entitled “Hyperthermia and hypothermia in the elderly,” which stated:
Elderly populations are prone to both hyperthermia [high central body temperature]
and hypothermia [low central body temperature] because of innate physiologic
changes associated with aging, the presence of chronic disease, and the
use of polypharmacy [multiple drugs being given to treat several medical
conditions]. Hyperthermia is a true medical emergency with a high mortality
rate, requiring rapid cooling and aggressive supportive care. [Emphasis added].
Given that this article reviewed what was even then common knowledge among
health care providers, and had appeared over twenty years prior to the
recent disasters, it cannot be argued that the center’s operators
and employees were unaware that its residents were at risk of significant
(if not fatal) injuries due to elevated room air temperatures. If it can
be shown that a facility did not have policies in place that would have
addressed this issue, it may be liable for any resulting injuries and/or deaths.
Example: Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, Florida
On Wednesday (September 13, 2017) eight residents of the Rehabilitation
Center at Hollywood Hills, Florida died at the facility. According to
police and medical investigators, all eight deaths were “heat related”
and are currently being investigated regarding the potential filing of
criminal charges against the Center’s operators. However, at this
early date, there is conflicting information as to how these deaths occurred.
Some news accounts claim that the facility either had no “backup”
electrical generator in place at the time of widespread power outages
in the area, while other accounts suggest that there was a generator in
place but that it was damaged by a fallen tree. In the former case, it
could be seen as a deliberate act of negligence while the latter case
could be seen as negligence for failure to anticipate that such damage
could occur (i.e. the Center did not remove the potential hazard or protect
its generator from the fallen tree). The Center may, it seems, have been
a victim of poor planning by other emergency response agencies.
According to reports in the national news media, the Rehabilitation Center
had asked the local public electrical utility (Florida Power & Light)
to restore electrical service, but was told that nursing homes were not
considered as high a priority for restoration as other facilities such
as hospitals. If this is demonstrated to be true, the utility may be also
to have contributed to these deaths and could be held liable.
Liability of health care facilities / nursing homes during potential, and
actual, severe weather conditions
All health care facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes located
in areas that are known to be at risk of periodic severe weather, are
required by law to conduct periodic reviews of their emergency response
plans. Such reviews include fire drills, safety inspections, and disaster
planning. Should a facility fail to conduct these drills and reviews,
or fail to fully document the results of such reviews, that facility has
exposed itself to potential liability for any injuries or deaths that
may occur at some later date.
How the Doan Law Firm can help the families of health care / nursing home
As we have seen, nursing home abuse may involve issues that are not directly
related to the quality of medical care provided to a facility’s
residents. Such issues can involve planning for emergency relocation of
residents in the event of severe weather, immediate availability of alternate
sources of electrical power, and insuring adequate staffing during periods
when residents will require closer monitoring and supervision.
At the Doan Law Firm, we have successfully represented both the victims
and victims’ families in cases involving nursing home abuse. Our
firm will examine the factual aspects of each case on an individual basis
before we make our recommendation regarding your best course of action.
Nursing Home Abuse and Wrongful Death accident lawyer of the Doan Law Firm is ready to assist
those who were injured or suffered a loss due to the recent storms that
damaged much of the Texas and Florida coastal areas. If you feel that
you, or a family member, were the victim of inadequate emergency planning
or exposed to an unnecessary risk of injury or death; we urge you to contact
one of our Florida or Texas offices to arrange a free case review and
an examination of any civil law options that may be available to you.
The Doan Law Firm Miami Dade (786) 671-0000 Gulf Coast / Tampa / Orlando
/ (800) 349-0000 Houston (832) 835-0000