Governor Demands Generators; Facility Owner Files Injunction
Hurricane Irma was one of the most devastating storms to ever hit Florida. The aftermath and rebuilding efforts will take months, if not years, and the toll on Florida residents is still being tallied.
But the most impactful and heartbreaking events related to the storm are the tragic deaths of 9 nursing home residents in the city of Hollywood, Florida. When the power went out at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the sweltering heat claimed the lives of 9 residents who did not survive the lack of air conditioning. Records uncovered following the deaths indicated some residents had body temperatures of 105 to as much as 109 degrees.
Fort Myers nursing home negligence attorney Scot Goldberg says nursing home and assisted living facilities have a certain duty of care to their residents. “The discovery of certain records, or in this case what is being described as lack of proper documentation of patient care, is turning up some very alarming things”, he says. “There is currently an ongoing criminal investigation by local and state law enforcement, and there is also speculation that some of the deaths may have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the facility's generators before they stopped working.”
The reactions to the deaths have been swift and severe, with Florida Governor Rick Scott calling the situation “unfathomable”. Hollywood police chief, Tom Sanchez, said it “was a sad state of affairs”, and the Broward County Medical Examiner had what was perhaps the most chilling response when he said, “they were sick already, it's going to be tough to tell how much was the heat and how much of it was they were really sick already.”
The staff and owners of the facility are claiming they did everything they could to continue to care for their patients during and following the hurricane, including calling Florida Power & Light 19 times, and was operating under the emergency plan guidelines set forth by Broward County. Staff has also claimed they called 911 multiple times as they determined patients were deteriorating at an alarming rate.
One of the most shocking claims in this whole tragedy is there are reports that the hospital right across the street from the nursing home, Memorial Regional, had fully-operational air conditioning powered by generators.
Nursing Home Regulations: What They Need To Do
All Florida nursing homes are required by state and federal law to file an emergency plan, including a plan for handling the evacuation of its residents. At this time, it is unclear if the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills had filed such a plan.
As of September 20th, Governor Scott has called for a new set of rules governing the operation of nursing homes during a disaster, which includes having a generator that will provide back-up power for 4 days. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have 60 days to comply with the new laws.
“The nursing home industry is a huge, financially powerful lobbying entity, and owners of these facilities have a history of pushing back very hard when it comes to spending money to comply with the law”, says Goldberg. In fact, back in 2005 and following Hurricane Wilma, there was a legislative bill introduced in Florida that would have required nursing homes to have generators to keep the elderly, sick patients safe. But the bill never made it past the Florida senate because the long-term care industry lobbyists put so much pressure on state representatives that the bill died.
“No one wants to foot the bill for taking care of our older population, and now at least 9 lives have been lost because of it”, says Goldberg. “Let's hope the lawmakers in our state stop folding to the industry lobbyists and get some more laws in place to protect our elderly citizens.”
September 20th: State Shuts Down Hollywood Hills Nursing Home; Owners Fight Back
Yesterday, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the license of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, shutting the place down. The agency claimed, “this facility failed its residents multiple times throughout the horrifying ordeal”.
Not surprisingly, the owners of the nursing home fired back, filing an injunction to oppose the order to shut down. They're claiming they did everything within their power to protect their residents, and followed the emergency plan as they were regulated to do by state and local emergency officials.
Nursing home residents have certain rights under the law, and one of them states they have the right to:
Be Free from Abuse and Neglect: You have the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse. Nursing homes can't keep you apart from everyone else against your will. If you feel you have been mistreated (abused) or the nursing home isn't meeting your needs (neglect), report this to the nursing home, your family, your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or State Survey Agency. The nursing home must investigate and report all suspected violations and any injuries of unknown origin within 5 working days of the incident to the proper authorities.
(For a complete copy of the Nursing Home Residents Bill of Rights, click here.)
Attorney Goldberg points out that the type of deadly scenario that played out in Hollywood is placing greater scrutiny on the overall operation of nursing homes and how they treat their patients. “When you have a family member sitting in your office, crying uncontrollably because of what some nursing home has done to one of their parents, that's unbelievably compelling and sad”, he says. “Why does it take such a horrendous occurrence to shed light on the way some of these places are operating?”
As advocates for people who have been victimized by the negligence or abuse of another person, the attorneys at Goldberg Noone Abraham will be monitoring the resulting aftermath of the 9 deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, and report further developments via this blog.