MIDDLETOWN—The City of Middletown has taken the owners of the Highland Rehabilitation Nursing Center to court after an unplanned evacuation of the nursing home during a humid thunderstorm.
On Friday Aug. 12, a duty nurse called the fire department about concerns that temperatures in excess of 100 degrees were on the third floor of the facility. The air conditioning had failed. Mayor Joseph DeStefano said he discussed an evacuation plan with county officials if repairs were not made by 5 p.m. on Aug. 13.
DeStefano was joined at City Hall on Aug. 16 by County Executive Steven Neuhaus, Fire Inspector Adam McCarey, Fire Chief Sam Barrone, and City Attorney Alexander Smith to announce steps required to bring the facility up to code.
The mayor said a first incident over Memorial Weekend found residents suffering from excessive heat after the air conditioning failed. No evacuation took place at that time, but the owners were issued code violations.
The air conditioning system failed again on Aug. 12. The city ordered the repair made or it would have to evacuate the building. Buses and ambulances were brought in.
Mid City Transit arrived when the city called. The nursing home had no agreement with the bus company in an emergency. The 92 residents were transferred to 11 nursing homes in the area.
DeStefano said, “Our goal is to reassure family members that we are looking out for their best interests, the clients and the residents of the facility, but also the employees of the facility.”
The mayor commended all the city employees who helped with the evacuation. A woman whose 95-year-old mother in law was at the facility temporarily for rehabilitation services highly praised the cool head of McCarey who stayed during the eight-hour evacuation.
DeStefano said the court action focuses on property, mechanical, and fire code violations. Any health code violations are state issues, DeStefano said.
The owners have agreed to replace the two units of the air conditioning system. “They have replaced the system with a temporary chiller out in the back of the current nursing home,” DeStefano said.
A local engineering firm was brought in by the city to do an evaluation and continue to monitor the systems. The nursing home owners have agreed to design a new system and install it in the fall when the weather breaks.
The city required that Highland sign a letter of understanding with Mid City Transit regarding any future emergencies. The facility has been cleared for occupancy. DeStefano said residents should return in the next two to three days.
“The city’s role was not intended to be punitive, but we demanded corrective action for a very serious situation,” said DeStefano.
The mayor said the nursing home employees “did a tremendous job. We couldn’t ask more from the employees and the management staff on hand at Highland Manor.”
A court hearing scheduled for Aug. 18 will be postponed to allow for the upgrades to be completed.
Neuhaus said the evacuation caused great distress for the residents, but the process could have been worse without the professional job of the emergency workers and nursing home staff. “I will say that the nurses and the staff there did care about the people,” he said.
“The damage is really not just to pay the bills on emergency buses,” Neuhaus said, “but it’s their reputation.” He said seven residents who were relocated to the county’s facility at Valley View have asked to stay and will be able to remain there.
“I hope this was a wakeup call,” the mayor said. “Our goal is not to close the facility down, but it’s also not to have a facility operate within our community that does not meet certain standards in protecting very vulnerable clients.”
Calls made to the owners of Highland Rehabilitation & Nursing Center for comment were not returned.
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