Eight people are dead and dozens have been sent to the emergency room after a nursing home in Florida failed to fix its air conditioning system during a prolonged power outage in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills evacuated more 115 residents Wednesday morning when a transformer powering the facility’s air conditioning system experienced a failure as a result of the storm. Temperatures had reached as high as 90 degrees in Hollywood Hills this week, and residents at the facility faced dehydration, heat exhaustion and serious respiratory conditions, according to The New York Times.
The Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families have now launched investigations into the facility, and one relative of a longtime resident of the nursing home says she hopes the owners are stopped from ever allowing this to happen again.
“They have to get punished for what they’ve done,” Flora Mitchell, 61, of Dania, Florida, tells PEOPLE. “God is not going to allow them to get away with this—six lives are gone for nothing!”
Vonda Wilson, Mitchell’s sister, has lived at the facility for 10 years after experiencing a severe stroke that left her unable to walk or speak. Wilson is now in the emergency room at Memorial Regional Hospital, just yards from the rehabilitation center, after she and dozens of others were evacuated.
Mitchell is awaiting word when she will be able to visit. But trips to Memorial Regional Hospital are nothing new ever since Wilson has been at the rehabilitation center, she says.
“She’s been to the hospital many times since she’s been at that nursing home,” Mitchell continues.
Had they had other financial means, Mitchell says, the family would have taken Wilson out of the rehabilitation center long ago if it weren’t for their insurance and the inability to choose where they wanted to go.
“A lot of things were going on, it is just not a good place,” Mitchell says of the nursing home, her voice shaking. “I used to be a nurse and I watched how they did things, and I knew they would mistreat her there. I tell everybody, if you have family in a nursing home, check on them.”
For much of the morning, Mitchell worried her sister was among the deceased. As families gathered outside of the nursing home to wait for news about their loved ones, Mitchell was approached by a woman whose mother had stayed in the same room as Wilson. The woman heartbreakingly told Mitchell her mother had died as a result of the power outage.
“I wish that all nursing homes would do the right thing and take care of people the way they would their own loved ones,” Mitchell says. “Love the patients like you love your family.”
As Mitchell waits for news about her sister’s recovery, she says she is praying justice is served.
“I pray, I pray a lot, and I ask God to help me through it,” she says. “We have to make sure this doesn’t happen again. May God have mercy on them.”