Florida Nursing Home Deaths after Hurricane Irma under Investigation

Investigations are underway as to why eight residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida died in the days after Hurricane Irma swept through the state.

The nursing home had prepared for the hurricane by stocking enough food and water for seven days and making sure the power generator was working, but until it becomes clear why so many residents died, Governor Rick Scott has ordered an emergency moratorium preventing new patients from being admitted there.

Whether or not this is a case of hospital negligence will be determined by the three separate investigations that have been launched as well as a criminal investigation.

Under federal law, the temperature at nursing homes must be kept between 71 and 81 degrees. They must also have an emergency backup power source to ensure that temperatures for residents and their provisions remain in a safe range. Thus far in the investigation, it is known that the nursing homeís air conditioning system was not fully functioning and that portable units were being used, but according to a statement by the city of Hollywood, the temperature at the facility was excessively hot. The city is now determining whether cause of death in any of the eight cases was heat-related.

Patients in Critical Need of Care

On September 12, the nursing home notified the Broward County Emergency Operations Center that it had lost power. That same day, one patient was found dead and taken to a funeral home and no authorities were alerted. The next day in the early morning hours, staff called 911 for a patient in cardiac arrest. The patient was delivered to Memorial Regional Hospital. Another 911 call was made within the next hour about a patient with breathing problems.

At this point enough concern had been raised about the facility that the Department of Children and Families was notified. Yet a third 911 call had to be made shortly after the second. The fire department was sent over to investigate what was happening there. They found several patients in distress and another three that were already deceased.

At five that morning, the chief nurse at Memorial Regional Hospital noticed that many of the patients arriving had extraordinarily high temperatures so she walked over to the nursing home herself. After finding more patients in distress and realizing the heat had reached unbearable levels, she triggered the hospitalís mass-casualty alert, concerned that the temperature inside was too high for anybody, not just the elderly.

There ensued a rush to evacuate the home, but four more patients died later in hospitals. A woman who had been to the home on Tuesday to visit a friend reported the patients were being kept in the hallways with fans after the air conditioning failed. Her friend was having difficulty breathing, but there was no ice available and she claims she felt ignored by the staff that day. On Wednesday, her friend was still alive but unresponsive. Tragically, later that day she passed away.

Ben Folkman was named, by his peers, New Jersey Super Lawyer for the last seven years running and Top Lawyer in SJ Magazine for the last six. His $100 million verdict was listed by the NJ Law Journal as the largest personal injury verdict for New Jersey in 2009. Licensed to practice law in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington D.C., Ben Folkman opened Folkman Law Offices, P.C. in October of 1998. Ben is highly accessible to clients and prides himself on working diligently to make sure that each and every one of their needs is met.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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