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How to Handle Nursing Home Deaths Caused by Hurricane Irma

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 disaster occurred.

Background: Heat-related deaths in the elderly

As early as 1994, G.M. Brody wrote an article in the respected medical journalClinical 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 abuse victims

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.

The 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

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