When disasters strike, nursing home residents face considerable risk

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Government officials vastly undercounted the death toll among Florida nursing home residents after the destruction of Hurricane Irma in 2017, according to new research led by a Brown University scholar who studies disaster management in the long-term care industry.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a total of 123 deaths statewide linked to the Category 4 storm, which made landfall in the Florida Keys with winds over 130 mph. The CDC number was based on death certificate data from across the entire state — including the deaths of 14 residents in a Broward County nursing home that lost power for its air conditioning system after the storm.

The new study — published on Tuesday, Oct. 6, in JAMA Network Open — compared deaths at nursing homes across Florida in the 30 days after Irma to those reported over the same period in 2015, when no hurricanes occurred in the state. It found the actual death toll is more than double the CDC number considering the nursing home population alone. 

Dr. David Dosa — an associate professor of medicine and of health services, policy and practice at Brown who led the study with colleagues from Brown and the University of South Florida in Tampa — identified an additional 139 deaths among Florida nursing home residents linked to Irma. Extending the timeframe to 90 days after Irma, they counted an additional 433 deaths. READ MORE