Upgrading or replacing air conditioning and electrical systems were on the radar of the owner of a Hollywood nursing home long before eight of its residents died after a transformer powering the facility air conditioning chiller failed during Hurricane Irma, according to city permit records.
And air conditioning mechanics contacted by the NBC 6 Investigators questioned how effective the emergency cooling efforts could have been, if there was not sufficient ventilation above the second floor drop ceiling, where hot air from the cooler was directed.
Video taken just hours before the first of the eight would die shows a spot cooler set up next to a nursing station in a second-floor hallway. Heat from the cooler is removed through a flexible duct that discharges heat into an area above the drop ceiling. That is how the coolers are designed to work, as long as temperatures in the surrounding area to do get too high – above 114 degrees, according to the manual for one similar air cooler.
But air conditioning mechanics, including Scott Engerer of TEAK Refrigeration, say long-term use of spot coolers in such an environment would be most effective only if the hot air concentrating above the drop ceiling is ventilated outside.
If not, he said, “It doesn't permit any of the heat to get out of there or the humidity to get out of the building.”
The roof of the facility does show several vents, but it is not known if any of them relieved heat from where the eight spot coolers used last week were off-loading their heat.
The home’s owners are declining comment under advice of legal counsel, as a criminal investigation into the deaths is underway, the home’s spokeswoman said.
In addition to the spot cooler seen on the video, an industrial sized fan can be seen at the end of the same hallway, potentially drawing hot air down through any spaces between the hall and the drop ceiling and sending it back toward the spot cooler.
After reviewing the video, Engerer said, “It's just recirculating the heat in there and the humidity in there. It's not pulling anything out.”
He said the fan would provide some relief, easing temperatures a bit – but that humidity would remain high, unless the area above the drop ceiling were vented.
The video shows one resident – naked, stooped over -- on a portable bed wheeled into the hallway between the fan and the spot cooler. Family members of residents say they recognize her as one of the patients who died as temperatures soared, especially on the second floor, where the video was taken.
Air conditioning and electrical improvement were on the facility’s to-do list, according to building permit records filed with the City of Hollywood.
Last August, an application for a permit was filed for a $42,000 job to install a permanent generator, according to city records. The records state some reviews of the plan were not approved. They do not show the permit was approved or that the work was completed.
Four months earlier, in April 2016, another application was filed for a permit to replace a cooling tower, a $55,620 project. It too shows not all reviews of the plans were approved and there is no indication the cooling tower was replaced.
NBC 6 has requested the full records from the city, but they were not made available today.
The permit applications do not say whether the proposed new generator would have powered the proposed new cooling tower.
In a timeline released last week, the facility said the current cooling tower was fed only by a transformer, which failed during the storm. Another transformer that fed the rest of the facility was intact and was powering life-safety systems, electrical outlets and other less-intensive electrical services.