Journalists examining the eight nursing home deaths at Florida’s Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills during Hurricane Irma have begun exploring who’s at fault for this entirely preventable tragedy. But actually, we may never understand the full story. As reckless as the owners and operators may have been for the facility’s failed cooling system that caused sweltering unlivable temperatures, it is hard to overestimate the role of unremorseful politicians, whose policies over the last 20 years accelerated the likelihood of this happening.
As Miami Herald journalists Carol Marbin Miller and Mary Ellen Klass recently reminded us, in 2006 Florida almost passed legislation that would have required all Florida nursing homes to have generators “capable of cooling and running their facilities.” The nursing home industry killed the bills. In a recent column about the state’s repeated failure to protect these most vulnerable patients, Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell tore into state political leaders, including Governor Rick Scott. Scott – the ousted head of healthcare operator Columbia/HCA, who “was at the center of one of the largest cases of Medicare fraud in U.S. history” and was then elected Florida’s governor in 2010 – took immediate action to shield and immunize nursing home companies for harm they cause residents. Just 34 days into his term, Scott “quickly ousted the state’s lead elder-affairs watchdog,” who had served under both prior governors and had exposed grotesque patterns of abuse and neglect at these facilities. In addition, “Legislators began rolling back safety protections, reducing, for instance, the number of hours of direct care nursing homes had to provide to residents.” This was all “done in the name of ‘deregulation’ — a word that sounds swell until you realize the end result can be a World War II veteran left wallowing in his own filth.”