Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Hillsborough ALF without power since Irma despite pleas for help, its director says

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THONOTOSASSA –– An assisted living facility full of elderly patients has been without power since Sunday, despite repeated calls for assistance, its executive director said late Wednesday.

The Stone Ledge Manor Assisted Living & Memory Care center houses 58 residents and has had difficulty keeping them cool, said executive director Sue Garcia.

"We have no power. We have no air conditioner" Garcia said. "We have dark hallways. I have families bringing us generators."

Paramedics took three patients to the hospital Wednesday after the center called 911 for help, Garcia said.

Hillsborough County emergency management said Wednesday at 8 p.m. that it didn't know that patients were in the center and that they could have been transferred to other facilities with power, spokeswoman Megan Danner said.

The county contacted the state Department of Health and was sending sheriff's deputies to check on the facility late Wednesday, Danner said, adding: "We haven't got confirmation that they don't have power."

Florida is grappling with nursing homes and other living facilities that have been without power since Hurricane Irma passed over the state. Eight elderly patients died Wednesday at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which was without air conditioning.

Garcia said that the county and Gov. Rick Scott's office know the center has no power because she has made repeated calls since Sunday for help. The governor's office, Garcia said, held conference calls with assisted living facilities to tell them they would be the first priority if Hurricane Irma knocked out power.

"They told me there are more than 1,000 centers who are ahead of us on the list with higher priorities," Garcia said.

"Utility companies and local governments determine the order of power restoration," the governor's office said in a statement late Wednesday. "We have been in constant contact with hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities to make sure that everyone is safe. We've dispatched the Department of Health and law enforcement has responded to help these individuals. Safety is the governor's top priority and all health care facilities must do everything possible to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of those in their care."

At 9:15 p.m., Danner said county and state workers were at the center evaluating patients, and that the state Department of Health was taking control of the situation. She said the facility does not want to move patients.

Many of the facility's patients have dementia or other memory issues, Garcia said. The center is a lower priority because the patients are not sick or fighting illnesses, Garcia said.

"The problem is they don't know they're dehydrated," Garcia said. "We're hydrating them every 30 minutes. I am making sure my patients are being taken care of."

As hours passed by without power, several worried family members picked up patients to take them home or to other locations with electricity and air conditioning, Garcia said.

Bob McCommons of Tampa said he learned on Facebook Wednesday evening that the center did not have power. He said he worried about his 96-year old father Robert and immediately took a generator to the center so staffers could light the lobby and a hallway.

"The residence halls are black and hot," he said. "It's kind of bad. This is kind of disconcerting."

McCommons, who said his father has lived at the center for three years, praised the staff for doing their best to care for residents in the stifling heat without electricity.

"She couldn't get help," McCommons said about Garcia. "Nobody will listen to her."

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

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