John O'Connor
John O’Connor

There is no way to sugarcoat what happened last week in Hollywood Hills, FL. Eight skilled care residents died in the wake of Hurricane Irma, largely because they were kept in a place where sweltering heat could not be contained.

Yes, it is a horribly sad story. And our condolences go out to the victims and their families.

Now that a criminal investigation is underway, it will be up to prosecutors to determine whether those who run the place and work there should be criminally charged, and to what extent.

But there is another troubling aspect to this development that deserves attention. Namely, it’s becoming quite clear that nursing home bashing is suddenly in vogue again.

And if it seems like the torch-and-pitchfork crowd forms whenever a bad thing happens at a single facility, it’s because that’s basically what keeps happening.

It’s bad enough that critics paint this sector with a broad brush. Guilt by association has become an occupational hazard. But what’s really unfair is the double standard.

I get why the sudden deaths of so many people in such short order would spark both outrage and demands that something be done. And you can bet that more than something will be done.

Already, the state’s governor has called for the facility to be terminated from the Medicaid program, an action that will almost surely put the place out of business. Police have launched a criminal investigation, and few will be shocked if criminal charges result. Lawsuits alleging neglect will also surely follow. It’s not going to be pretty.

But it’s not just this single facility that is looking at tougher days ahead. You can be pretty sure that all Florida operators will soon have tougher emergency planning rules to comply with, including mandatory energy backup requirements beyond what’s now on the books.

There may even be more federal rules down the road for the nation’s other 14,000 or so facilities.

Yet industries that are directly responsible for many more deaths each day get what amounts to a pass. Thousands of people die in auto accidents every month, but you don’t see people demanding that auto dealerships get a closer look.

And many, many more people die as a result of alcohol, cigarette and unhealthy food consumption. But last time I checked, there weren’t many protests forming outside liquor stores or fast food restaurants.

And what about the power company that allegedly ignored the nursing facility’s repeated requests for electricity to be turned on? No culpability there?

Again, what happened in Florida is a tragedy.

But if we are going to start demanding that every business that contributes to lethal outcomes be put out of business, perhaps we should start with the real troublemakers.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.