Vulnerable folks a concern in Irma aftermath

MIAMI (AP) — Florida’s fits and starts toward post-Irma recovery have shifted to urgent efforts to protect its vulnerable elderly residents after a string of nursing home deaths.

Several nursing homes have been evacuated because of a lack of power or air conditioning, while utility workers raced help dozens of others still lacking electricity as of Thursday. Homebound seniors found help from charities, churches and authorities.

Meanwhile, detectives were combing through the Hollywood facility where eight elderly residents died amid sweltering heat.

On Thursday, 57 residents were moved from a suburban Fort Lauderdale assisted-living facility without power to two nearby centers where electricity was just restored. Owner Ralph Marrinson said all five of his Florida facilities lost power after Irma. Workers scrambled to keep patients cool with emergency stocks of ice and Popsicles.

“FPL has got to have a better plan for power,” he said, referring to the state’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light. “We’re supposed to be on a priority list, and it doesn’t come and it doesn’t come and, frankly, it’s very scary.”

Statewide, 64 nursing homes were still waiting for full power Thursday, according to the Florida Health Care Association. The separate Florida Assisted Living Association said many of its South Florida members lacked electricity. The group was working on a precise count.

Older people can be more susceptible to heat because their bodies do not adjust to temperatures as well as young people. They don’t sweat as much, they are more likely to have medical conditions that change how the body responds to heat, and they are more likely to take medication that affects body temperature.

Most people who die from high body temperature, known as hyperthermia, are over 50, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Homebound seniors were also a concern. The Greater Miami Jewish Federation encouraged people to evacuate before the storm if they could, but now the group has shifted its focus to checking on them and bringing supplies to their homes, said CEO Jacob Solomon.

“At this point we’re better off taking care of them where they are. They didn’t leave then. They’re not going to leave now. What are you going to do? You go, you check on them, you make sure they have water and food and that’s it,” he said.