UPDATE 1-Florida governor orders removal of nursing home from Medicaid after 8 died

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Sept 14 (Reuters) - Florida’s healthcare agency ordered a Miami-area nursing home suspended from the state Medicaid program on Thursday after eight elderly patients there were exposed to sweltering heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and died.

More than 140 residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were evacuated on Wednesday after fire and rescue crews and medical staff from a nearby hospital found many of the facility’s residents suffering from dehydration, heat stress and breathing difficulties.

City officials in Hollywood, Florida, said the nursing home had continued to operate with little or no air conditioning after power to the building was disrupted by Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida on Sunday.

Officials have said the interior of the building was extremely hot, and that staff were scrambling in vain to lower temperatures with fans and portable cooling units. Police have since sealed off the building and with the assistance of state and federal regulators opened a criminal investigation into the loss of life.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration on Wednesday ordered the Rehabilitation Center officially closed to new admissions. The new order suspending the facility from participation in Medicaid -- a federal-state medical program for the poor, aged and disabled -- is effective immediately.

The nursing home fatalities brought Florida’s death toll from Irma and its aftermath to 31. Seven more have died in Georgia and South Carolina, combined, and 43 were killed in the Caribbean. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler)