GIFU (Kyodo) -- Four elderly patients at a central Japan hospital have died after the air conditioning unit in their rooms broke down while relentless heat continued to grip a wide area of the country, police said Tuesday.
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Y&M Fujikake Daiichi Hospital in Gifu Prefecture, however, denied the cause of death of the patients in their 80s on Sunday and Monday was a result of the air conditioning failure, saying it moved patients with serious conditions to air-conditioned rooms and used fans to substitute for air conditioners.
The police received a report on Monday evening that four people had died at the hospital possibly due to heatstroke after the air conditioners broke down. They have since launched an investigation, suspecting it could possibly be a case of professional negligence.
Prefectural and city government officials inspected the hospital on Tuesday based on a law concerning hospital management. The temperature in Gifu city rose as high as 36.2 C on Sunday, according to a local meteorological observatory.
According to the police, two men and two women aged 83 to 85 were staying on the hospital's third and fourth floors and died between 8:40 p.m. Sunday and 11:35 a.m. Monday.
The hospital, which specializes in treating the elderly, said the air conditioners broke down on Aug. 20 and it had since used nine fans because it would need one month to fix the equipment.
"The patients' conditions could have taken a sudden turn for the worse at any time," Yosei Fujikake, chief of the Gifu hospital, told reporters in denying the link between the failure of air conditioning and their deaths.
A 47-year-old man whose father is hospitalized there said the hospital told him air conditioners were out of order when he visited the facility Monday.
"I'm worried about him," the man said as his father was moved from the second floor to a floor with broken air conditioners without clear reasons.
Japan is in the midst of a dangerous heat wave that killed 133 people in July, 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 prone as they tend to have limited ability to control their body temperature.