We know how the ordeal ended — with the deaths of 14 people from a sweltering Florida nursing home.
But newly released 911 calls from that nursing home confirm confusion and chaos as elderly patients fell victim to cardiac arrest, respiratory failure and hyperthermia.
Staff members at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills made eight calls to 911 between September 11 and 13 — after Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida and left millions without power and air conditioning.
The first two calls were relatively calm. On September 11, a staff member called 911 to report an 81-year-old patient with a “respiratory problem.” The dispatcher told her help is on the way.
The next day, a staff member called to report a 93-year-old man with a fever who’s not alert and having difficulty breathing. That dispatcher also said help is on the way.
But on September 13, three days into Irma’s aftermath, the 911 calls grew increasingly frantic.
‘She’s in cardiac arrest!’
The first call of the day came in at 3 a.m.
“There’s a patient who’s in cardiac arrest,” a woman said. “We don’t have any air condition(ing), so I saw her slouch over. I realized that she’s not breathing, so I checked her. She’s just barely breathing … and her fingers started to change color — slightly blue.”
As the dispatcher asked questions from a required check list, the caller seemed to get increasingly agitated.
“Is she in severe pain?” the dispatcher asked
“No! She’s in cardiac arrest!” the caller replied.
“I understand that, ma’am. But we have to ask these questions,” the dispatcher said. “Help is on the way as requested. We’ll be sending an emergency response. If she gets worse in any way, please call us back immediately.”
‘What a night’
About an hour later, a staff nurse called 911 to report a patient with “very labored” breathing. The nurse said the patient was not completely alert.
It’s just after 4 a.m. But already, the nurse exclaimed, “what a night.”
The dispatcher said help is on the way.
At 5:36 a.m., 911 dispatchers received the third call of the day from the nursing home.
“I’m calling because a patient is in cardiac arrest,” the caller said. “The nurse is in the room now … they’re doing CPR now.”
‘Oh my God, this is crazy’
Over the next hour, staff members called 911 three more times for three different patients.
One call at 6:15 a.m. revealed the confusion and chaos.
“I’m calling from Hollywood Rehab,” a woman said. “The nurse found a patient in respiratory failure. So we are initiating CPR at this moment.”
When asked how old the patient is, the woman replied, “I’m trying to find her paperwork. But the computer is slow.”
The caller remained downstairs from the patient, trying to find her information, while the nurse tending to the patient was upstairs.
“Oh my God, this is crazy,” the caller said.
After the dispatcher said help was en route, the caller asked others for help in finding the patient’s information.
Another woman picked up the phone for her.
“Give me a second, ’cause I’m doing this for another nurse,” she said.
The dispatcher asked her whether the patient is completely alert.
“Um, this patient here? Um, she was alert before now,” the nurse said.
The dispatcher asked again whether the patient is completely alert.
“Um, the nurse just told me before she went back there that she’s just on respiratory failure,” the staffer replied.
‘She’s not breathing!’
At 6:24 a.m., a staff member who had already called made another call for a different patient.
“I’m calling from Hollywood Hills rehab. I have another patient that’s in respiratory distress,” she said.
She later gave orders to someone in the background: “Make sure they’re checking the patient. Please. We don’t want no more (inaudible).”
The patient in this case was a 71-year-old woman. “She’s in respiratory distress at this moment. They have her on oxygen at this moment,” the caller said. “She’s not breathing!”
Shouts and commotion could be heard in the background. The dispatcher told the caller to get a defibrillator or send someone to get a defibrillator immediately.
“Yes, defibrillator. OK,” the caller replied.
‘It’s a different patient’
By 6:33 a.m., the 911 call center had already received five calls from the nursing home that morning. So when another call came in, the dispatcher asked if she was following up on a previous report.
“It’s a new call. It’s a different patient,” the caller responded. “The nurses are in the room with the patient … 83 years old, female … having respiratory distress.”
“Is she completely alert?” the dispatcher asked.
“I’m not sure. I have no idea,” the caller replied.
“Is she breathing normally?
“I can’t answer that right now because I’m not with the patient, and I’m not familiar with them,” the caller said.
‘The call was very daunting’
The seventh 911 call of the day related to the nursing home actually came from the Broward Emergency Operations Center.
“We just got a request from Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services in Hollywood. They’re saying that they have — they’re having issues with patients, and there may be casualties,” the caller said. “They’re requesting ambulance assistance.”
Larkin’s Behavioral Health Services is adjoined to The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home. According to a Larkin hospital statement, “Our 152 bed Skilled Nursing Facility, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills offers a comprehensive line of rehabilitation services.”
The caller from the county emergency operations center stressed that he was relaying second-hand information.
“Again, I’m not 100% sure of the situation,” he said. “We want to be on the safe side here. I know you guys are really busy. But the call that came in was very daunting. And we got a call from them yesterday that we routed, and it looks like nothing — or it looks like they need more assistance.”
Criminal investigation underway
Authorities have not released the exact causes of death for the 14 nursing home patients who died. Hollywood police said the deaths are part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott set new emergency requirements for the state’s nursing homes after the Hollywood Hills tragedy. The new rules require nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to have supplies and power to sustain operations for at least 96 hours after a power outage.
Facilities must also have “ample resources, including a generator and the appropriate amount of fuel” to “maintain comfortable temperatures” over the same timeframe.
“This is based on standards already in place at all hospitals in Florida,” the governor’s office said.
Facilities that don’t comply by November 15 will face $1,000-per-day fines and could have their licenses revoked.