The deaths of eight elderly residents inside a powerless South Florida nursing home are bound to become one of the stories of Hurricane Irma that will linger.
Dangerously high temperatures at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills from the loss of air conditioning in the nursing home is believed to have led to the deaths as well as the hospitalization of 10 other residents there.
It’s not the only local nursing home that lost power during the storm without sufficient backup to keep temperatures from getting to life-threatening levels. And some are already questioning why nursing homes aren’t among the first facilities to be reconnected to power after a storm.
Gov. Rick Scott, sensing the public outcry, was quick to call the deaths “unfathomable” and promise swift and comprehensive attention.
“Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe – especially patients that are in poor health,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I have directed the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to immediately work with local law enforcement to conduct an investigation, and if they find that anyone wasn’t acting in the best interests of their patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
“I am also asking available first responders to immediately check in with the health-care facilities in their area to make sure nursing homes and assisted living facilities are able to keep their residents safe.”
What we need, he’s saying, is a bigger government involvement in protecting the health and welfare of people who may be receiving substandard care.
I am not the first person to note that while Scott was issuing his government-to-the-rescue message, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was fielding questions from reporters in Washington about whether President Donald Trump would be amenable to the government taking a bigger role in health care insurance, either by a single-payer system or one that shores up Obamacare through subsidies.
“I can’t think of anything worse than government being more involved in your health care, rather than less involved,” she said. “The president is focused on looking at ways where government gets out of the way, and people have more control over their health care.”
Government bad. Private sector good. Just keep government out of the way and everybody’s health outcomes improve in the hands of the private sector, which I guess would include privately run nursing homes.
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” Ronald Reagan once famously said.
But no elected officials say that in the aftermath of a hurricane. Everybody, including trickle-down true believers, carries on like socialists after a big storm.
Where’s FEMA? Will the government pay for my roof? Will the government open a shelter near me? Will the government make me safe by imposing a curfew?
Will the government step in and make sure the private utility company works with the private nursing homes better so that no elderly people die from a lack of air conditioning?
I need help. Where’s my county commissioner, my state representative, my congressman, my senator?
Nobody talks about the magic of free enterprise after a hurricane.
Imagine if Gov. Scott used Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ script to respond to the nursing home deaths.
Imagine if Scott said, “Yes, those deaths are unfortunate, but the answer isn’t more government. I can’t think of anything worse than the government getting more involved in nursing home residents’ health care. We need to let the private sector work without burdensome jobs-killing governmental regulation and just let the nursing home patients be in charge of their own health care.”
No, what you saw instead was a call for multiple government agencies to respond. And for government to step in and do what it takes to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
And in the end, it will probably result in state legislation that imposes new regulations on nursing homes or utility companies.
As it turns out, it’s not burdensome regulation when it’s your grandmother.