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11th person dies in Florida nursing home saga

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 9/22/2017 By Susannah Bryan, Sun Sentinel
Police surround the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which had no air conditioning after Hurricane Irma knocked out power, on Sept. 13, 2017 in Hollywood, Fla. So far, nine deaths have been blamed on the incedent. © John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS Police surround the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which had no air conditioning after Hurricane Irma knocked out power, on Sept. 13, 2017 in Hollywood, Fla. So far, nine deaths have been blamed on the incedent.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - An 11th person has died as a result of stifling heat at a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home that lost power during Hurricane Irma.

Constance Alice Thomas, 94, died Thursday at 8:58 a.m., more than a week after eight people succumbed to stifling heat at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

Among those who died, body temperatures were as high as 109.9 degrees.

Two other people have died in the days since. Martha Murray, 94, died on Wednesday. Carlos Canal, 93, a Cuban exile who came to Miami in 1961, died the day before.

Nursing home victims had body temperatures up to 109.9

The eight people who died on Sept. 13, three days after the storm, were: Albertina Vega, 99; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Manuel Mario Mendieta, 96; Gail Nova, 70; Bobby Owens, 84; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; and Betty Hibbard, 84.

"My mom survived the evacuation, thank God, but it was rough," said Claudette Thomas, daughter of the 11th victim. "We are asking for the cause of death. I need to know the cause."

Thomas moved to Hollywood more than 40 years ago from her native Guyana and settled into the nursing home at the end of July, her son-in-law, George Stoute, said from his home in Ontario.

"She was very kind," he said. "She had a great sense of humor."

Thomas enjoyed playing mom to her son and four daughters and remained healthy and upbeat even after losing her husband more than 15 years ago, Stoute said.

"We'd always reminisce about things back in Guyana," he said. "We always said we'd die before her. We thought she was well on her way to 100. It wasn't meant to be."

Stoute says he and his family were alarmed when they saw news reports of the nursing home being evacuated.

"A person gets that old and then goes through that traumatic situation," he said. "We were worried something might happen. And then it happens and it hits you hard."

There was some confusion Friday as to whether Thomas was one of the victims.

In response to a query from the Sun Sentinel, Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak sent an email at 2:21 p.m. saying "No, this case is not in our system."

At 4:07 p.m., Broward County sent an email saying she was.

Mallak provided this explanation: "I had our investigators look into the name you provided," he wrote. "This is the 11 death from the Hollywood Hills Nursing Home. She was moved from Memorial Hospital to three other facilities and was lost in the system as coming from that incident."

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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