The death toll mounted again in the Broward County nursing-home disaster following Hurricane Irma. A ninth patient expired after being evacuated from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in the midst of a power outage that turned the facility into a sweltering sarcophagus of sorts. It was reported that some of the seniors had triple-digit body temperatures prior to their passing.
The fact that a major hospital with functioning utilities sits across the street from the nursing home makes the disaster a needlessly senseless one. The Hollywood Police Department has launched a criminal investigation into the case and obtained a warrant to search the premises.
The Category 4 storm began impacting South Florida Sept. 9. The power at the nursing home went out Sept. 11. The first patient died Sept. 12. Seven more died Sept. 13. Carlos Canal, 93, died Sept. 19. In all, more than 100 frail elderly were moved to Memorial Regional Hospital – but not soon enough.
“The mass tragedy has resulted in officials from the nursing home, Florida Power & Light and Broward County blaming one another,” the Sun Sentinel reports in an article titled “Ninth nursing home patient dies; Gov. Scott details contact with state.” “Some of the victims’ relatives say they blame the owners and staff at the nursing home. Others jumped to the defense of workers who, they say, went out of their way to be kind and compassionate.”
Gov. Rick Scott did not mince words.
“No amount of finger pointing by the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Facility and Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services will hide the fact that this healthcare facility failed to do their basic duty to protect life,” Scott said in a statement issued hours after Mr. Canal’s death. “This facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision to not evacuate their patients to one of the largest hospitals in Florida, which is directly across the street. The more we learn about this, the more concerning this tragedy is.
“Through the investigation, we need to understand why the facility made the decision to put patients in danger, whether they were adequately staffed, where they placed cooling devices and how often they checked in on their patients,” he continued. “The families of those who trusted the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hill deserve answers and those responsible for this horrific behavior should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Many already have taken matters into their own hands. Lawsuits have been filed on behalf of two of the victims, Carolyn Eatherly, 78, and Mario Mendieta, 96, alleging administrators failed to property remove residents when it became lethally hot. Eatherly suffered from Alzheimer’s disease with no immediate family in the vicinity, meaning few, if any, visitors. Mendieta had several medical conditions and, conversely, had many visitors. Their attorneys additionally are admonishing the state’s largest electric company for being as much at fault as the nursing staff.
“FPL has a lot of responsibility here,” Coral Gables counselor Carlos Silva said in a Miami Herald article titled “Two more lawsuits say Hollywood nursing home and FPL share responsibility for deaths.” “They were notified several times of the problems this nursing home was having. …If they had been on a priority list, they would have gotten to them within 10 hours and these people would have been OK.”
The first lawsuit to be filed was on behalf of survivor Rosa Cabrera, who has diabetes, obesity and is a double amputee. The 94-year-old woman’s son-in-law said it was a disgrace how industry professionals handled the situation.
“If they had called 911 and removed all the patients immediately, no one would have died,” Ray Nazario said in another Miami Herald article titled “First lawsuit filed against Hollywood nursing home after 8 residents died.” “She was very traumatized when she learned about the deaths.”
Also entered into Broward Circuit Court was an emergency petition aimed at archiving photos, videos and other evidence before, during and after the inclement weather that could be used to hold the nursing home accountable. The petition was filed on behalf of the oldest patient to perish, Albertina Vega, 99.
“It’s much bigger than one person, and until we get to the bottom of what happened here, based on what’s available to us, that this is about money and neglect,” Miami lawyer John Leighton told the Herald in an article titled “Complaint seeks to preserve video, photos from nursing home where 8 died.”
The remaining bodies have been identified as Miguel Franco, 92, Estella Hendricks, 71, Betty Hibbard, 84, Gail Nova, 71, and Bobby Owens, 84.