Residents return to Middletown nursing home after air conditioner breakdown, but concerns continue

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Marcus Solis has the details.

Some patients are starting to return to a nursing home in Middletown after the air conditioning broke down at the height of the heat wave.

For families and patients, it's been a nightmare, and many worry not enough has been done, and that it could happen again.

A temporary, 200-ton chiller is now doing something that hasn't happened all summer: circulate cold air throughout a nursing home.

On Saturday, 98 elderly patients had to be evacuated from the Highland Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Middletown after temperatures inside reached dangerous levels, an evacuation ordered by city and Orange County officials.

"The fact that we had to go out there on a Saturday and evacuate them is really the ultimate failure, and the only thing worse than that would have been having a fatality," said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus.

No one at the nursing home was willing to speak to us, but management has had no choice but to deal with local officials and the state health department.

The first sign of trouble occurred Memorial Day weekend, when temperatures on the top floor exceeded 100 degrees.

One of the facility's air conditioning units failed, and the other was operating at only 50 percent, and leaking coolant.

Repairs that had been promised were never done.

"One explanation given by a maintenance guy up there was that we are trying to get through summer so we wouldn't have had to shut the facility down during the hot weather. That is not an acceptable explanation, but that is the rationale that we believe they were taking," said Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano.

It took nearly eight hours to transfer the patients to 11 different facilities, as far away as Tarrytown.

Tuesday afternoon, the home was given the OK for patients return.

Teresa DeStefano is the mayor's mother. Her sister is a resident at the facility whose new management is now under fire.

"I was heartsick because I was a member of the board there for Catholic Charities for 23 years," said Teresa DeStefano.

"Our goal is not to close the facility down, but it's also not to have the facility operate within our community that is not meeting certain standards and protecting the very vulnerable clients," said Mayor DeStefano.
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