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In Light Of Last Year's Hollywood Hills Tragedy, Seniors Get Advice As Hurricane Season Begins

Before Hurricane Irma made landfall across South Florida last September, supplies flew off the shelves. From supplies to how to research assisted living facilities and nursing homes, seniors got an advice session from Congresswoman Frederica Wilson
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In the days after Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida last September, knocking out power across the region, 14 patients at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died from sweltering conditions. Twelve of those deaths were ruled homicides by the state. 

On Thursday morning, one day before the official start of a new hurricane season, South Florida seniors spoke to local emergency management officials and lawmakers about how to better prepare.

South Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and Fmr. Florida Sen. Eleanor Sobel hosted the workshop as part of an ongoing Congressional Consortium for Safe Seniors.

“This is a trigger that caused me to be so terrified of what could happen that I decided that this will never happen in District 24 again, or anywhere in the United States if I could help it,” Wilson said.

Read More: 'Hellish Nightmare:' Hollywood Hills Nursing Home Tragedy Continues In Court

Kelly Conner, an emergency room nurse in Hollywood, said her biggest concern was to prevent another tragedy like that at Hollywood Hills. 

“Seeing those patients and what they went through, it just, it was uncalled for,” she said. “And it just broke my heart, it shouldn’t happen.”

Wilson’s consortium included presentations from the American Red Cross, Broward County Emergency Management, Miami-Dade Emergency Management, and the Broward County School District.

Last year, 27 shelters were opened  during Hurricane Irma. This hurricane season, 42 facilities can be utilized as shelters if needed. 

But officials warned that shelters are a last resort. They urged all senior citizens and their families to look up abuse and deficiency reports for their assisted-living facility or nursing home on the state’s Agency For Health Care Administration website

“That's why it’s so important to have these inspections prior to the storm ever coming, to make sure these emergency items they put on the list actually work,” Wilson said.

The officials on the panel also recommend seniors register early with their county’s Vulnerable Populations Registry if they live at home or alone and are sheltering where they are. 

If someone has specific medical needs, such as the need for continuous oxygen, or has refrigerated medications, they can pre-register with their county’s Special Needs Registry ahead of a storm. For Palm Beach and Monroe Counties, this is also where you tell your emergency management divisions if you fall into the 'vulnerable populations' category. 

Conner said seeing her community suffer after the Hollywood Hills deaths has inspired her to do things differently this storm season:
“To volunteer. To get out there and to really help, and to become a part of this community and see what I can do.”

This post has been updated.

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Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.