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5th death confirmed at Japan hospital after air conditioning fails

Y&M Fujikake Daiichi Hospital is seen in Gifu Prefecture, on Aug. 28, 2018. (Kyodo)

GIFU, Japan (Kyodo) -- Another elderly patient at a central Japan hospital where air conditioners broke down has died, police said Wednesday, following the deaths of four others possibly due to heatstroke.

The fifth person was an 84-year-old male patient who died Tuesday evening at Y&M Fujikake Daiichi Hospital in the city of Gifu in Gifu Prefecture.

Some of the five were suffering from serious illnesses, including heart and multiple organ failures and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and at least one was unconscious.

The police have launched investigations into the deaths on suspicion of negligence.

A 52-year-old man who identified himself as the guardian of the patient who died Tuesday consulted with the police two hours after his death at 6:40 p.m., citing the four previous fatalities reported at the hospital. The police said the hospital did not report the latest death to them.

The hospital earlier denied that its air-conditioning failure led to the deaths of the other patients, also in their 80s, who passed away on Sunday and Monday.

It argued that staff members had moved patients with serious conditions to air-conditioned rooms and used fans to substitute for air conditioners because it needs one month to fix the equipment.

The hospital, which specializes in treating the elderly, said the air conditioners broke down on Aug. 20 and it has since placed one fan in each room for three or four people.

A central air conditioning system covering at least 10 rooms on the hospital's third and fourth floors went out of order and some patients were moved to the second floor with a working air conditioning system, but the first four patients who died were left behind.

It was not immediately clear where the fifth patient was staying at the time of his death. He was hospitalized last Friday and was initially in a room on the third floor where the air conditioning was not working.

The hospital has a capacity for 119 patients in chronic phases of illness and about 50 were staying at the hospital at the time, according to the city of Gifu.

The Gifu city government instructed the hospital on Wednesday to improve its air conditioning, and several dehumidifiers were brought in to the hospital during the day.

A 44-year-old man from Ogaki city in Gifu who visited the hospital Wednesday morning where his mother, 76, is staying after suffering a stroke, told reporters, "Although my mother does not have any problem now, I'm worried (about the situation) and came to ask the hospital to allow her to move out."

The man's mother has moved from the third floor to the second floor, but he said a room on the lower floor is crowded with six beds in a space supposed to accommodate two or three beds.

"I'm sorry that the hospital has not given any explanation to us despite the deaths of many people," he said.

As a dangerous heat wave has gripped the country, 133 people died nationwide in July, marking a record for a single month. In the week through Sunday, 5,890 people were taken to hospitals for heatstroke or heat exhaustion, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

While it is common to suffer heat exhaustion and heatstroke outside, people can get those symptoms while staying indoors. Elderly people are said to be particularly vulnerable as they tend to have limited ability to control their body temperature.

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