In the wake of Hurricane Irma’s march through Florida, one of the most tragic and incendiary events was a nursing home in Hollywood where some 11 patients died from heat exposure. Following the loss of its power residents inside The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills suffered from rising temperatures, and the actions of the facility administrators are under scrutiny.
Yet, in the wake of such a tragedy, at a time when most people are looking at the humanitarian efforts following a hurricane, one elected official -- U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson -- has been willing to leverage these deaths for political traction.
Nelson did not hesitate to level blame for this avoidable tragedy. On the floor of the U.S. Senate Nelson used his bully pulpit to point fingers for the deaths, indicating the blame lies in Tallahassee, specifically the governor’s office.
Questions about actions within the facility have been raised. While the building did in fact have back-up generators, the air conditioning units were not functional. Alternate cooling units and fans were being used, with very mixed results. The heat within the building had risen so high that it drastically raised patients’ body temperatures
Prior to the arrival of Irma Gov. Rick Scott had a cell phone number supplied to various offices, emergency managers, and hospitals and nursing homes, affording them direct contact with his office following the storm’s landfall. Nelson makes it clear that this was not an effective point of contact, and that there could be negligence on Scott’s part, resulting in the patient deaths.
“People died in a nursing home right across the street from a major hospital in Hollywood, Florida,” Nelson declared from the Senate floor. “All the phone calls that had been made that were not answered both to the government as well as to the power company as reported.” Echoing Nelson’s charge was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which detailed what it perceived as failed policies leading to the deaths.
What is striking in these accusations is that the effort to lay culpability at Scott’s feet ignores some stark realities. While calls by rehab center administrators were in fact made to Scott’s hotline, and to Florida Power and Light Co., it appears nursing home staff oddly hesitated to contact emergency services.
Additionally, directly across the parking lot from the facility is Memorial Regional Hospital, which had full power and accommodations. Once hospital workers were alerted to a few serious cases brought in, they went into the facility to tend to all residents, discovering the initial deaths. Eventually, all had been evacuated to the hospital for treatment. Despite this obvious issue with the activities on site, Nelson has been willing to level the charge at Tallahassee. Scott’s office, in the midst of relief efforts, has been compelled to release phone records to respond to accusations of lack of contact with the facility.
Nelson’s finger-pointing is transparent. Scott is challenging him next year for his Senate seat. The governor has all but made his run official. Even President Trump alluded to Scott’s Senate candidacy during his tour of Florida to survey hurricane damage. He gave verbal support to the governor as a future senator. It’s apparently something that has eaten up the incumbent senator -- that, plus remembering pre-Irma, he and Scott were even in the polls. It has apparently inspired him to politicize a tragedy not just to score early political points for himself, but to keep Scott from scoring any more of his own.
Brad Slager is a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer who wrote this piece exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.