Elder residents of a West Palm Beach assisted living facility were left sweltering after Hurricane Irma, after the facility lost power and for a day its director refused a city offer of generators to power the air conditioning, according to just-released police reports.
Residents of Savannah Court were found sweating on the home’s steamy second floor on Sept. 12 when fire-rescue personnel responded to an anonymous tip of unbearable conditions at the home, at 2090 N. Congress Ave., according to reports filed by Det. Andrea Izzo-Higgins and Sgt. Lori Colombino.
When police came back the next morning asked why the residents hadn’t been taken to the cooler first floor, Executive Director Michael DeSalvo said they couldn’t be moved because they were in wheelchairs and the elevator wasn’t working.
“You don’t know these people,” he told the officers. “They are all a bunch of whiny crybabies and have been before the storm.”
DeSalvo could not be reached for comment.
Following the deaths of 14 Hollywood nursing home patients after Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott last month announced rules requiring nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the state to have generators to “maintain comfortable temperatures for at least 96 hours following a power outage.” A bill filed this month in Tallahassee would require that power companies respond first to critical facilities including hospitals and nursing homes.
According to the West Palm Beach police report, fire-rescue personnel had offered DeSalvo additional generators to power air conditioners for the Savannah Court’s 114 residents. He accepted their offer of ice and water, which City Commissioner Keith James dropped off, but DeSalvo refused the generators.
James told The Palm Beach Post he was appalled by the conditions at Savannah Court, scolded the executive director and reported back to city officials in West Palm’s Emergency Operations Center.
Concerned that residents would be overcome with heat and dehydrate, Colombino contacted Izzo, who is assigned to the county State Attorney’s Office’s Elder Crime Task Force, to meet her at the home at 9 a.m., Sept. 13. Emergency Operations Director Brent Bloomfield joined them.
“Upon entering the front door, we were overcome with a stench of mildew,” Colombino wrote in her report. There was electricity running through wires to lights and fans in the lobby, but still no air conditioning, she wrote.
“We observed wet carpet in rooms — some covered by thick plastic sheets. As we walked from the north to the south unit, we were struck with a considerably higher temperature. Residents appeared to be extremely uncomfortable and several residents asked for our assistance with cooling the facility,” she wrote. “Residents were observed in paper clothing attempting to cool off, observed fanning themselves with handmade fans and/or other objects,” she said.
When DeSalvo arrived to meet the city officials, he was “immediately confrontational and demanded we tell Commissioner Keith James that he needs to learn how to talk to people,” she wrote.
DeSalvo demanded the officials contact FPL and get the power restored.
Asked to confirm he’d arranged to get additional generators, he replied that he had done everything he was required to do as mandated by the state to keep the facility operable, she wrote.
When asked why he refused the offer of generators the previous evening, “Michael was unable to provide an explanation,” she wrote. “Michael did not appear to be in the least bit interested with our concerns for the elderly residents.”
At 10:15 a.m., West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio arrived with Police Chief Sarah Mooney, Commissioner James and city staffers, with a TV crew in tow. DeSalvo slapped the camera from the cameraman’s face, then, “swiftly walked toward Mayor Muoio, who was standing on the sidewalk speaking on her cellphone,” Colombino wrote. “Michael grabbed the photo identification card hanging from the mayor’s neck and turned it around. The mayor ended her phone call and briefly spoke with Michael,” Colombino wrote.
“I thought the police were going to jump him or something. He was a little assertive,” Muoio said Monday.
“Basically I said to him the treatment of the people there was unacceptable, that they need to be in an air conditioned place.,” she recalled. “He’d turned down our offer of generators. I said, ‘You have to fix this. We’re coming back by 3 and it has to be fixed by then. He was like, ‘no, everything’s fine’ and when we went out to check on it everything wasn’t fine and he needed to take action.”
By the end of the officials visit, DeSalvo accepted the offer generators. Later that day, the air was back on.
Meanwhile, Izzo-Higgins contacted a handful of state agencies to inspect Savannah Court, including the Agency for Health Care Administration, Department of Children and Families and the Department of Health. The agencies “did not find immediate concerns to shut down the facility or remove residents,” she wrote.
Those investigations are closed, pending release of a written report.
“At the conclusion of our visit, Michael apologized for his actions earlier in the day,” she wrote.
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.