Miguel Franco left Colombia in 1970 to find work in Miami so he could afford to bring the rest of his family here.
He worked a day job as a repairman for Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation and part-time at night as an airplane mechanic at Miami International Airport.
“He had to do that to bring his family here because that cost a lot of money, and he wanted something better for us,” said his son, Pedro Franco, who has two siblings.
Earlier this year, Miguel Franco lost his ability to walk and moved into the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where his wife, Cecilia, had been living for several years while suffering from Alzheimer’s.
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In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, 93-year-old Miguel Franco was among the eight rehab center residents who died on Sept. 13 after the facility lost its air conditioning and turned into a sweltering death trap, according to state authorities. Franco’s 90-year-old wife, Cecilia, survived, unaware of her husband’s fate. Three more residents died last week.
On Friday, the Franco family joined a growing list of victims who have sued the nursing home in wrongful-death and negligence actions.
“Some tragedies are unavoidable, but this tragedy was entirely avoidable,” said attorney Curtis Miner, who filed the family’s suit along with lawyer Albert Levin. “With this lawsuit, we hope both to cast a light on the egregious treatment suffered by elderly and vulnerable members of our community at the Rehab Center and to prod regulatory changes to prevent this from recurring in the future.”
The Hollywood Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have launched criminal investigations, while the state Agency for Health Care Administration and Medicaid have suspended the rehab center’s operating license and government reimbursements, respectively.
The rehab center, located at 1200 N. 35th Ave., lost electrical power for its air-conditioning system on the afternoon of Sept. 10, after Hurricane Irma struck South Florida. Without a back-up generator, the 152-bed nursing home’s administrators said they repeatedly contacted FPL and state regulators to repair the transformer — to no avail.
But the administrators at the facility, which is owned by Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, acknowledged they did not call 911 emergency services until the wee hours of Sept. 13, when a series of patients began suffering from cardiac arrest and respiratory failure after three days of exposure to excessively high temperatures.
Early that Wednesday morning, first-responders brought several dying and distressed patients to Memorial Regional Hospital across the street, before a full evacuation was ordered for the rehab center.
Last week, the center’s lawyers said that the administrator, Jorge Carballo, and three doctors making the rounds of the residents did not believe there was any need to call 911 until after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“None of these healthcare professionals reported any patients or residents being in distress or having significant problems,” said the rehab center’s lawyers, Kirsten K. Ullman and Julie Allison. “It is only based on hindsight of outcome that the reasonable actions taken at the time are being criticized.”
Miami Herald staff writer Julie K. Brown contributed to this story.