Florida Officials Still Investigating Nursing Home Deaths after Hurricane Irma

Oct 10, 2017

Florida officials are still investigating a series of nursing home deaths after Hurricane Irma knocked out power and downed trees.  Long-term care facilities across Florida prepped for Hurricane Irma by stocking up on food, medical supplies, and water.  Now there are questions about why one nursing home, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, experienced the loss of eight residents in the days following Irma.

Florida Officials Investigate Cause of Nursing Home Deaths

Following reports of the deaths, initial investigations indicated that the air conditioning system at the facility was not fully functional.  The facility tried to offset the heat by using portable air conditioning units, but the facility remained “excessively hot”.  Reports noted that a tree had fallen on the transformer powering the air conditioning system, which is why it initially stopped operating properly.  Per regulations, the facility was required to have a “permanently installed operational generator”, but there is a history of violations relating to failures to follow generator regulations.

As of mid-September 2017, Florida officials were working to determine the exact causes of death.  Florida Governor Rick Scott issued an emergency moratorium in September preventing the facility from admitting new patients.  The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has expressed condolences is reportedly cooperating with the investigation.

So far, three agencies have opened investigations into the facility.  A criminal investigation has also been opened, and a search warrant issued for the property.  Gov. Scott has taken an active role in the investigation process, promising to get answers for the families affected.  He has also promised that, if the facility was not abiding by the state’s standards of care, then they will be “held accountable to the fullest extent of the law”.  It is too early in the investigation to make conclusions, but families of the residents who died are not backing down in their search for answers.

If you have lost a loved one due to substandard care, nursing home abuse, neglect, or other negligence, you likely have as many questions as the families impacted by this tragic situation.  Let Brown & Brothers help get the answers you need and deserve.  Contact our office to speak with one of our skilled nursing home abuse attorneys.

Could These Nursing Home Deaths have been Prevented?

Officials are looking to answer this question by assembling a thorough picture of what transpired before the trail of deaths began.  Here is what is currently known about the series of events:

September 12

Broward County Emergency Operations Center was informed that the facility had lost power.  “Mission-critical” status was requested with the power company.  The facility was asked if they had medical or emergency needs, which they reportedly replied that no assistance was needed.  The same day, the first of eight residents was found dead.  Authorities were not called following the death.

September 13

September 13, 2017 is a day that will live on in the minds of many for years to come.  The series of events and deaths that occurred have raised attention in more than one industry.  Here is what is currently known about what transpired:

  • Around 3 a.m. someone at the facility called 911 to report a resident experiencing cardiac arrest.  The patient was transported to a local hospital.
  • Around 4 a.m. a second 911 call was made reporting a resident with breathing problems.  Following this 911 call, a lieutenant with the responding fire department called a battalion chief, who then called the Department of Children and Families to report the incidents.
  • Shortly after 4 a.m. another 911 call was made requesting patient transport.  At this time, the fire department sent several crews to the scene to investigate.  Three residents were found dead on the second floor with multiple others in distress.
  • Around 5 a.m., the chief nursing officer at Memorial Regional Hospital (just yards away) decided to walk to the facility after receiving a number of patients with extremely high temperatures. Upon entering the facility, she immediately triggered the hospital’s “mass-casualty alert”, noting the excessively high temperature and number of residents in distress.
  • At 9:15 a.m., 141 residents were evacuated from the nursing home via hospital and paramedic staff. Even with staff rushing to evacuate the building, four more residents died after being taken to hospitals.

The days following the deaths and reports, a number of friends and family members stepped forward asking questions and relating their experiences with the facility.  One individual described visiting a resident the day before she died and how uncomfortably hot it was.  She stated that the residents were kept in the hallways near portable air conditioning units, but it was so hot residents complained of being unable to breathe.

For the surviving residents who were evacuated, some remained in hospitals for extended periods of time, while others were released to the care of other facilities or family members.

What Does the Future Hold after Such Tragedy?

Looking to the future, the primary concern related to these nursing home deaths is preventing future injuries or deaths.  Florida law requires nursing homes be kept between 71 and 81 degrees.  Backup power sources must be able to keep temperatures within safe limits.  As the investigation continues, the focus will be on determining whether The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills followed applicable standards of care, laws, and regulations.  Further, could the facility have taken additional measures to protect residents and prevent these nursing home deaths?

In such situations, there is a lot of concern about protecting the legal rights of residents.  If you have questions about your legal rights, or that of a loved one, contact Brown & Brothers today.  Our attorneys are dedicated to protecting the legal rights of nursing home residents and ensuring that nursing home abuse, neglect, negligence, or wrongful death does not go unnoticed or unaddressed.  Fill out our online form to learn more.