Employees at the Hollywood nursing home where several residents died after Hurricane Irma were laid off when its license was suspended by the state, the facility said in a notice last week.
The 245 employees — including five doctors, 79 certified nursing assistants, 37 licensed practical nurses, 23 occupational or physical therapists, 18 registered nurses, 10 administrative assistants, 25 environmental or laundry workers and other staffers who worked in engineering, supplies and other upkeep tasks — were let go Sept. 20, according to the Sun Sentinel.
The nursing home’s license was revoked the same day by the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which cited several residents’ deaths from respiratory or cardiac distress and administrators’ efforts to revise patients’ medical records after the fact.
According to the Sun Sentinel, the notice of the layoffs was in response to the Worker Adjustment and Restraining Notification Act of 1988, which requires employers to provide advance notice of mass layoffs by 60 days. In a letter dated Sept. 27, Carolina Pena, the center’s human resources director, wrote the facility was unable to notify the state of the layoffs sooner “due to unforeseen business circumstances that occurred after the impact of Hurricane Irma,” the paper reported.
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When the hurricane hit South Florida on Sept. 10, one of the nursing home’s transformers powering its cooling system went down. Nursing home officials at the facility set up portable coolers and fans in response, and reached out to Florida Power & Light and called the governor’s cellphone in the next two days.
But despite the rising heat inside, no one at the facility called 911 until early in the morning on Sept. 13, when some of its residents began to pass out with symptoms of respiratory and cardiac distress.
About 140 residents were eventually evacuated that morning after nurses became alarmed at the conditions of the residents. Many of those evacuated were carried out in wheelchairs or stretchers, police said.
Eight residents would be dead by the end of the day, and four more would die in the weeks that followed.
Officials have since questioned how conditions at the nursing home could have deteriorated, despite the fact that Memorial Regional Hospital was located just steps away. Gov. Rick Scott approved an emergency order last month that would require all nursing homes to obtain generators and adequate fuel for their air conditioning systems by next month, though the Florida Health Care Association, the state industry trade group, has countered that the requirement is not feasible in that timeframe.
Both the Hollywood police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating the deaths as part of a criminal investigation.