IRMA: Palm Harbor nursing home residents complain of heat

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 10:42 PM EDT

Residents at the Bay Tree Center Nursing Home in Palm Harbor said due to a power outage caused by Hurricane Irma, the temperatures in the facility's rooms continue to rise and the conditions have become unbearable.

  • Residents: 5 nursing home deaths in Hollywood, FL have them worried
  • Facility is full, also hosting evacuees from Naples
  • Administrator says she reached out to Gov. Scott via personal cell phone for help

"There's no air conditioning," said resident Carolyn Heaphy, 67. "They only have generators running half of the hall lights."

Another resident said it's almost too hot in the building to eat, and it doesn't help that the windows only open a few inches due to a lock.

"There's no ice, there's no cold water. We're getting very little rations for food," said resident Joan Hutkin, 56. "For lunch, they served Chef Boyardee beef ravoli. It's too heavy for the heat we have in there."

Both residents said the eight nursing home deaths in Hollywood have them worried about their current conditions.

"I'm very scared," Heaphy said. "I came here because I was sick with double pneumonia and in a coma."

Bay Tree Center administrator Michele Bain said the nursing home was prepared for Irma, and employees have been working around the clock to keep residents safe.

"We have an adequate supply of bottled water on hand at our center at all times. We have extra food, linen supplies and medication on hand," Bain said. "We have increased hydration, passed out cold cloths, provided popsicles and some water."

In addition, Bain said she called Governor Rick Scott twice on his personal cell phone to ask for help getting power back on to run air conditioning.

"We are hoping to get power by the end of this evening. If not, by Friday." she said. "We have other measures in place to restore the air conditioning by this evening to the best of our ability."

Those other measures include a pump fire truck from Palm Harbor Fire Rescue that spokeswoman Liz Monforti said has a generator that can help with cooling.

We asked Governor Scott's office about the nursing home, and were told the state EOC handling it said the administrator claimed to "have no unmet needs at this time."

It's a mixed message with which some residents in the 120 bed-facility strongly disagree.

"It's all new administration and they're doing their best. Under these circumstances their best isn't good enough," Hutkin said. "We have to get some air circulating in there. We have to get some ice."

Hutkin said there is one room in the facility that has air conditioning, but it can only fit 10 people and some residents are bedridden. Bain said they also have some evacuees from Naples.

"We did take in two other facilities of ours and we were able to keep them safe and secure," she said. "Our residents have been fed, they have been given hydration and they continue to. They have gotten everything that is within our means and power to give to them."

Late Wednesday, Genesis Health Care Centers, which operates nine centers in Florida including Bay Tree Center, said power was restored to Bay Tree Center at around 8 p.m., and issued the following statement:

Bay Tree Center is a Genesis HealthCare center. Genesis operates 9 centers in the state of Florida. Bay Tree was a receiving center for evacuees from several of our sister Genesis centers in other locations. Most of those patients have returned to their original centers, with the exception of some patients who came from our center in Naples, Florida.

The safety of our patients, residents and staff is always of the utmost importance. While it is never easy to carry out evacuations of this magnitude, hundreds of employees worked around the clock to ensure that everyone was transported safely and settled into new locations. We are very proud of our staff.

As a skilled nursing provider, we are fully prepared for situations like these:

  • We have an adequate supply of bottled water on hand at our center at all times.
  • We have extra food, linens, supplies and medication on hand
  • We have increased hydration, passed out cold cloths, provided popsicles, and more
  • We have an emergency generator at our center that provided power during the outage.

Our patients are being assessed frequently by our physician and nursing staff. We have had additional regional clinical and operational support on-site at the center to assist in maintaining normal care routines.

Full power has been restored.