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State shuts down nursing home where 8 people died

State shuts down nursing home where 8 people died. (WPEC)

Florida Agency for Health Care Administration issued an order Wednesday night, temporarily shutting down the Hollywood nursing home where 8 people died.

The deaths are believed to be heat related, but still under investigation by the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez says it’s believed the deaths are partly to blame on the facility unable to run air conditioning after losing power because of Hurricane Irma.

“The AC unit in the place behind me, under investigation, was not working and they were utilizing portable AC units which were insignificant to reduce excessive heat in the facility,” Chief Sanchez said.

The deaths of the 8 victims are now part of a criminal investigation, which includes local and state investigators.

The victims have been identified by the Broward Medical Examiner as:

Bobby Owens, 84

Manuel Mario Medieta, 96

Miguel Antonio Franco, 92

Estella Hendricks, 71

Gail Nova, 71

Carolyn Eatherly, 78

Betty Hibbard, 84

Albertina Vega, 99

Raelin Storey, a spokeswoman for the City of Hollywood, said there were a series of calls to 911 early Wednesday morning to Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills.

“At 3 o’clock AM, our Hollywood fire rescue crews first responded to this facility for a report of a cardiac arrest,” Storey.

An hour later, a second call came in at 4 a.m.

Storey says during the second a call, a fire rescue lieutenant alerted her battalion chief and Florida Department of Children and Families about concerns of the welfare of patients at the nursing center. Moments later a third call was made to 911 from inside the center, where first responders were about to find a startling discovery.

“Three individuals were found deceased on the second floor of the facility, and other patients in varying degrees of medical distress,” Storey said.

There was an immediate evacuation ordered for all 158 patients still inside. Some were taken to area hospitals in critical condition.

Memorial General Hospital is just a few hundred feet away, literally across the street from Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez says there is now a criminal investigation to determine whether staff failed to prevent the deaths.

In a statement, Jorge Carballo, Nursing Home Administrator for The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, says the facility is cooperating with investigators, and disputes it was negligent in notifying the State that it was without full power.

“The Center and its medical and administrative staff diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators,” the statement said. The full statement can be seen below.

A CBS12 investigation found the center has failed a series of inspections in past years, including failing to maintain an operatable generator.

Follow up checks showed the facility fixed the problems. It remains unclear whether the state knew the center was operating on partial power, and without their full air conditioning after Hurricane Irma.

Under the direction of Florida Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration moved Wednesday night to issue a temporary order banning from the center from reopening.

“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” Governor Rick Scott said. “Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable. Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe, especially patients that are in poor health.”

In a statement, Governor Scott said it is each facility’s individual responsibility to ensure the well being of patients.

As part of the criminal investigation, Chief Sanchez they are focusing on “who knew what, when.”

It was after a third 911 call to the center in the matter of an hour that three people were found dead on the second floor of the center. The staffing of the center, and what staff members were doing to ensure the welfare of patients is also part of the investigation.

When news of the deaths began to be reported, CBS12 was flooded with dozens of phone calls and emails from concerned viewers about Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast area nursing homes in similar conditions.

RELATED STORY: Elderly in Jupiter assisted-living facility call for help.

Senator Bill Nelson says as he is touring the state after Hurricane Irma, he is finding other nursing homes with limited power and air conditioning.

“I think it’s an emerging scandal of gargantuan proportions with 8 deaths already,” Senator Nelson said.


FULL STATEMENT:

Statement By: Jorge Carballo, Nursing Home Administrator

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills

Hollywood, FL – “The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills expresses its deepest sympathy to the family members of the residents who passed away following a prolonged outage of our air conditioning system due to Hurricane Irma. All other residents have been moved to Memorial Regional Hospital, where our medical and nursing staff continues to care for them.

“The Center and its medical and administrative staff diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators. While our Center did not lose power during the storm, it did lose one transformer that powers the air conditioning unit. The Center immediately contacted Florida Power & Light and continued to follow up with them for status updates on when repairs would be made. Outreach was also made to local emergency officials and first responders.

“In compliance with state regulations, the Center did have a generator on standby in the event it would be needed to power life safety systems. The Center also had seven days of food, water, ice and other supplies, including gas for the generator. Additionally, when the transformer powering the A/C went down, staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility. Our staff continually checked on our residents' well-being—our most important concern—to ensure they were hydrated and as comfortable as possible.

“We are devastated by these losses. We are fully cooperating with all authorities and regulators to assess what went wrong and to ensure our other residents are cared for.”




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