In the days after several residents died in sweltering heat at a Hollywood nursing home after Hurricane Irma, questions abounded – as did blame.
Two search warrants filed by the Hollywood Police Department with the Broward Clerk of Court’s office the week after the tragedy suggest detectives are casting a wide net for the answers: demanding visitor and patient logs, medical documentation and servers and hard drives from the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, which tried and failed to control rising temperatures with spot coolers and fans before it finally called 911 days after Irma hit.
The department’s search warrants are part of a criminal investigation, conducted by Hollywood police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, of what went wrong at the center and how 11 of its residents eventually died.
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The first warrant, filed with the clerk’s office Sept. 14, includes photographs, video surveillance and recording devices, building maintenance records, air testing, electrical testing personnel records and logs for employees on duty in the four days before the nursing home was evacuated. The warrant also includes time logs and computers, servers and hard drives.
Another warrant filed Sept. 19 expanded the scale of the search to include visitor logs, cleaning crew logs, manifests, delivery logs, phone logs, inspection documents, training documents and license documents for both employees and the facility, as well as telephones on site. The expanded warrant also encompasses documentation on contact with residents at the facility, including medical, drug administration, and personnel who cared for them.
Though the warrants call for detectives to return with a written inventory of the property within 10 business days of the warrant, Hollywood police officer Detective Steven Sparkman wrote in a Sept. 19 document that “due to size and scope, the search is still in progress.”
The Miami Herald filed a lawsuit this week against city of Hollywood for refusing to release documents in connection with the case.
State officials have questioned how conditions at the Hollywood center, steps away from Memorial Regional Hospital, could have deteriorated so quickly. The transformer that powered the nursing home’s cooling system went out Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t until 911 calls placed in the early morning of Sept. 13 for residents dying in the heat that the center was evacuated.
About 145 residents were eventually taken to other facilities, many in wheelchairs or stretchers, police said.
Eight residents – Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Betty Hibbard, 84; Manuel Mario Mendieta, 96; Gail Nova, 71; Bobby Owens, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99 – were dead by the end of the day. Carlos Canal, the ninth victim from the nursing home, died the following Tuesday. Martha Murray, 94, died the day after. Alice Thomas, 94, was the last to die, eight days after the power failure.
When the state Agency for Health Care Administration yanked the nursing home’s license and shut it down last week, it said at least eight of the residents at the home died after not receiving proper medical attention. The Broward County Office of the Medical Examiner has not yet released official causes of death for any of the victims, pending toxicology tests.