10th Patient Dies in Hollywood Hills Nursing Home Irma Disaster

A criminal investigation is underway after power to the air conditioning was lost but patients stayed in the facility.
Published: September 13, 2017

A tenth person died Wednesday after residents stayed at a South Florida nursing home several days after it lost power following the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.

The deaths have led to a criminal investigation and the the state health department has suspended the license of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

“As more information has come to light on this egregious situation, this facility absolutely cannot continue to have access to patients,” Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior said Thursday. “This facility failed its residents multiple times throughout the horrifying ordeal.”

Senior’s announcement came the same day that Martha Murray, 94, was pronounced dead by the Hollywood Police Department.

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Eight patients died on Sept. 13, three days after Hurricane Irma knocked out air conditioning and power to the nursing home. Four of the deceased had body temperatures between 107 and 109 degrees, state authorities say. A ninth victim, 93-year-old Carlos Canal, died on Tuesday.

What we’ve seen is something extremely tragic that points to the need to having plans in advance when it comes to emergency preparation.”  Robert Gould, chief communications officer at Florida Power and Light

After state officials banned Hollywood Hills from admitting new patients and receiving Medicaid, the owner of the facility filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court arguing it followed an emergency plan overseen by Broward County during preparations for Hurricane Irma.

The lawsuit claims staff members did everything possible to get help from Florida Power and Light to restore the air conditioning unit, including calling 911 and using coolers, fans and ice cream to cool the patients.

An attorney for Hollywood Hills said the facility’s officials are cooperating with the criminal investigation.

The air conditioning issue led to the evacuation of 115 people. Three people originally died at the nursing home and five others were pronounced dead at Memorial Regional Hospital, reports The Washington Post.

Rescue crews were called to the nursing home around 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning. The fuse needed to run the air conditioning unit was broken. Temperatures reached into the 90s on Tuesday and Wednesday in Hollywood.

Video from the evacuation scene shows residents sitting in wheelchairs outside of the nursing home, reports WCVB.

The rehab center is located directly across the street from Memorial Regional Hospital, which is one of the largest in the state.

“Most of the patients have been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues,” Doctor Randy Katz, medical director of Memorial Regional’s emergency department, said last week.

A statement from the nursing home confirmed that the facility had “prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility’s air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane.”

The nursing home has faced several safety violations and citations in recent years, including two for not following generator regulations in 2014 and 2016, according to CNN.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has directed the Department of Children and Family and the Agency for Health Care Administration to work with local authorities on the investigation.

“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” Scott said in a statement. “If they find that this facility was not meeting the state’s high standards of care, they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Employee Dave Long said the facility had been calling Florida Power and Light to fix the fuse for several days.

“We’ve been calling and calling. It just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and I can’t do anything until we get that fuse popped back in,” Long said.

Robert Gould, chief communications officer at Florida Power and Light, says that parts of the facility had power and Broward County did not list the facility as “critical infrastructure”.

“What we’ve seen is something extremely tragic that points to the need to having plans in advance when it comes to emergency preparation. I would be remiss if I didn’t say our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those who lost their lives,” says Gould.

In the state of Florida, one in five residents is 65 or older. There are 683 nursing homes with over 84,000 beds and more than 3,100 assistant living facilities with over 99,000 beds.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is a 152-bed facility that provides short-term rehabilitative services and long-term care, according to its website.

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