By: Natasha Mathurin, J.D. Candidate, May 2019, St. Thomas University School of Law.

We’ve all woken up in the dead of night and felt the colony of sweat beads dancing over our skin. The dense air roasting us like a sauna. Our bodies tossing and turning in a heat of confusion, as we start tugging at our clothes trying to escape this madness. It takes us a couple minutes but we finally come to our senses and realize that the reason behind this deadly heatwave is that we forgot to turn the air conditioning down. We get up, adjust the temperature and once again all is right in the world and within a few minutes we are fast asleep.

But imagine if turning down the air conditioning wasn’t an option and you were trapped inside a sweat-box that you called a home for three days. This was the reality for the patients of The Rehabilitation Center, a Hollywood, FL nursing home. The rehab center’s air conditioning was knocked out as a result of Hurricane Irma. Three of the patients died at the facility and eight others died later at the hospital located across the street. The state reports that of the deceased, four had body temperatures between 107 (41.6 Celsius) and 109 (42.7 Celsius) degrees.

Although, the exact cause of their deaths has not been released, many are outraged over the living conditions and sweltering heat these patients endured. The facility has had its license revoked by the state agency for Health Care Administration and is currently under criminal investigation by Hollywood police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Several of the family members of the deceased have filed suit against the rehab center.

But are there others to blame for the conditions these patients were subjected to after Hurricane Irma? The rehab center claims that it had an established disaster plan in place that was approved by the county. Also new rules on emergency preparedness plans, for long-term care facilities, that had been established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services did not require long-term care centers to be in compliance until November 2017. In 2006, Florida lawmakers considered legislation that would require nursing homes to maintain generators, in order to power air conditioners, to ensure comfortable temperatures during disasters. This came afterthe 2005 destructive Hurricane Wilma. Despite that fact, the bill still died and never passed.

Now we have eleven dead patients possibly from being exposed to extremely high temperatures and many are asking for answers. But did we already have the answer and let it slip through our fingers? And who’s really to blame for this tragedy, our care givers or our lawmakers, or both? Both groups pretty much failed to act for the ones that needed them the most.