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Probe Launched Into Nursing Home Deaths After Irma Power Outage


At least eight nursing home residents in Florida have died. Hurricane Irma knocked out a transformer that powered the air-conditioning system at the Rehabilitation Center nursing home in Hollywood Hills, Fla. There is now a criminal investigation into what happened. Gary Farmer is a Democratic state senator. He joins us now on the line.

Thanks so much for being with us.

GARY FARMER: Hey. Good morning. Happy to be here.

MARTIN: When it became clear that the storm was going to be really bad, residents of this nursing home had been evacuated to this hospital across the street. I understand you had a chance to talk with families and residents there. How are they doing?

FARMER: Yes. Well, obviously, they're shaken. The scene inside that nursing home two nights ago must have just been absolutely horrific. Temperatures were so excessive that some of the patients that were brought over had body temperatures of 106, 107 degrees. When that happens, your body just starts to shut down. So family and loved ones are just horrified.

MARTIN: We should note we've got you on kind of a difficult Skype line this morning.

So just to be clear, these residents who you spoke with - they weren't evacuated to this hospital in advance of the storm. They rode this thing out in their nursing home, and then conditions there started to deteriorate. And it was only then that they were taken to this hospital.

FARMER: That's correct. That's correct. And making matters even worse, this hospital is literally 50 yards away from this nursing home. It just really defies any kind of common sense or decency that when things started going downhill in this home that these patients weren't immediately brought over to that hospital.

MARTIN: You have called for tighter regulations at nursing homes. What sorts of regulations would have prevented something like this from happening?

FARMER: Well, I think society over time, capitalism has shown us that when accountability is lessened, responsibility is lessened with it. And here in Florida over the last decade, we have chipped away and chipped away at things like staffing ratios, at things like liability insurance requirements, at overall standards and quality of provision of services at these nursing homes. And so for example, these nursing homes are required typically to only have $50,000 in liability insurance coverage. There were 157 patients in this nursing home. So you know, when things like that occur, the motivation to provide quality care is lessened because the owners know they can't be held accountable, that it would shield the ownership of these nursing homes. The quote, unquote, "owner" of this home is the license or certificate-holder. That entity that holds that license is an assetless shell. They have no assets. Their accounts are swept of any kind of monies, and the money flows up to corporate ownership. Nursing homes...

MARTIN: But this person who was in charge of this nursing home, they had - they were complying with all the standards and the rules on the books?

FARMER: Oh, yes, they were. That's why they need to be changed. That's why they need to be changed. And it's structures, governmental setups and lacks of - lack of regulation like this that has made these nursing homes one of the prime investment tools for hedge funds. So you know, you got to ask yourself, why are hedge funds and other investors clamoring to invest in nursing home? It's because they know that it's - you know, it's going to be all profit and very little responsibility.

MARTIN: What happens to these residents now? I mean, it must be hard to find places to go, given all the other damage that's been done by the storm to other nursing home facilities.

FARMER: Sure. I mean, many of them are just looking for a new home or at least a place to stay right now.


FARMER: Memorial Hospital that took them in did an incredible job - processed 157 patients, admitted 34 patients. We still had about 40 that left to find homes as of late last - yesterday afternoon. We think we've done so, but it's an ongoing situation.

MARTIN: Florida State Senator Gary Farmer talking to us on Skype this morning. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

FARMER: Yes, thank you. My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON PARKS' "NEMESIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.