8 elderly Irma victims die in Hollywood hellhole


They came into life surrounded by family — and lived full lives; some of them had children, grandchildren, homes and careers.

But they died agonizing, lonely deaths.

Some could no longer speak and walk. Others were blind; many had been robbed of their memories years before.

A few had no family left.

“It was almost as if they were thrown in a corner to die,’’ said Linda Horton, whose friend, Carolyn Eatherly was among eight people who perished in the unbearable heat of a Hollywood nursing home that had lost power during Hurricane Irma.

“We need this to be a reminder that older people in this country should be celebrated, their stories should be told and their wisdom should be shared,’’ Horton said.

The cause of the eight victims’ deaths has not been released, but it was a cruel epitaph for those most vulnerable — and a tragedy that brought new scrutiny of how Florida and the nation care for elders, those with disabilities and the infirm.

The residents, who ranged in age from 71 to 99, fell ill after the cooling system broke down at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

The facility lost power on Monday, and had only one operable generator, which did not run the building’s central air conditioning. Temporary coolers eventually quit.

As the criminal investigation continues into what happened, family and friends of those who died found some solace in their memories.

“My father came here from Colombia in 1970 to give his family a better life,” said Pedro Franco, whose father, Miguel Franco, 92, died. His mother, Cecilia, 90, was also a resident at the nursing home. She was treated for dehydration and is recovering at Memorial Regional Hospital — which is just across the street from the nursing home, located at 1200 N. 35th Avenue. More than 100 others were treated at the hospital.

Before going into the home, the father would visit his wife several times a week, even though at times she wasn’t able to recognize him and other family members.

“We thought that was the best place for him to go, since he wanted to be with my mother,” the son said.

With high hopes

Albertina Vega came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 17 years old. She worked for many years as a seamstress in New York before retiring and moving to Florida with her husband.

They were married more than 30 years, but had no children, said Carmen Fernandez, a friend who took care of Vega for the past 35 years.

Vega’s husband died in 1986.

“I promised her husband I would stay close to her until the last minute that she died,’’ Fernandez said.

“She was by herself and had no kids and she had family but nobody cared about her.’’

Vega, 99, went into the nursing home about 10 years ago when she lost her eyesight and was diagnosed with dementia. It was a convenient move, since Fernandez lives next to the nursing home and could visit her often.

Fernandez said she was in contact with the nursing home after the hurricane and was told that Vega was fine.

Then, only a day later, on Wednesday, they called to tell her that Vega had died.

It wasn’t until the police arrived that she learned of the agony that her friend had gone through.

“They never said anything about a problem. They should have called me. I would have got Albertina out of there and brought her to my house,’’ she said.

Betty Hibbard, 84, and Carolyn Eatherly, 78, had never married and had no family, friends said.

Both of them suffered from dementia and were cared for by friends until their health deteriorated.

Eatherly was born and raised in Bowling Green, Ky. She and Linda Horton were friends for about 30 years. Eatherly moved to Florida to care for her mother until her death.

“I gave them my name and number and told them she had no family and I was all she had, but no one called me. She died alone,’’ she said.


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