Nelson calls on Senate to expand investigation into nursing home deaths

Sen. Bill Nelson visits the Emergency Operations Center (File photo)

Sen. Bill Nelson asked the U.S. Senate Finance Committee to broaden its ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 14 elderly patients at a nursing home in Hollywood during Hurricane Irma to consider additional concerns raised this week over the state's treatment of people with disabilities during and after the storm, the office announced on Friday.

Florida emergency management officials came under fire this week over the state’s alleged discrimination against people with disabilities during and after the disaster.

In a letter sent to state officials Wednesday, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (DHS) outlined several concerns recently brought to the agency's attention, including:

  • The use of unqualified sign language interpreters
  • Lack of discharge planning for people leaving emergency shelters
  • The evacuation of persons with disabilities
  • Planning for evacuation of elderly/individuals with disabilities living in high rise buildings

The DHS went on to “remind” the state that it has a legal obligation not to discriminate on the basis of disability.

“[We] would like to remind the State of Florida of its obligations to carry out its federally assisted activities in a manner that is consistent with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 … [which] prohibits discrimination based on disability,” the agency wrote.

The agency put the state on notice that it plans to continue to monitor the situation, saying, "[DHS] will likely to make arrangements in coming months to get feedback from residents regarding challenges faced by those with access and functional needs during the recent hurricane."

Click here to read the DHS's later to the state.

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