A 12th resident has died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning at a Hollywood nursing home, creating a sweltering inferno.
Dolores Biamonte, who at 57 is the now-shuttered nursing home’s youngest victim, died Thursday night in hospice care, Hollywood police said, bringing the death toll from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills to a dozen since its cooling system failed amid the rising heat on Sept. 13. Her brother Robert also confirmed the death Friday morning.
“This tragedy was not only avoidable, but was foreseeable as Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation had over a week to prepare and create a plan to relocate and protect all of its residents prior to Hurricane Irma’s arrival,” family lawyer Sean Greene said in a statement, adding the family intends to pursue “all legal action that we can.”
“This crime was totally preventable, but Hollywood Hills put profits before the safety of their residents, which led to this unimaginable turn of events,” he wrote.
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Greene said Biamonte had a neurological disorder from the time she was born that eventually robbed her of eyesight and speech, leaving her dependent on others. By the time she was a teenager, she couldn’t move on her own. Though she could make small movements, like shake her head if she didn’t like a certain food, she couldn’t lift a glass of water.
Biamonte’s mother cared for her until her own death in 2005, he said, and after that the family moved her to an assisted living facility. After her first facility shut down in 2014, her family moved her to Hollywood Hills.
Before Irma, Greene said, the family was assured she’d be fine, with the home located just steps away from Memorial Regional Hospital. Biamonte’s brother, Robert, evacuated his trailer before the storm, heading for Virginia.
On the afternoon of the 13th, a family friend called Robert, mentioning that the nursing home was being evacuated.
By Sept. 17, doctors told the family they were moving Biamonte to hospice, Greene said. She had been severely dehydrated.
“She didn't have the ability to say ‘I need help,’ ” he said. “It’s the silent death that is so horrible in this case.”
According to the Sun Sentinel, the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office found Biamonte had the same symptoms as 11 other residents who died in the days after Irma cut power to the transformer that powered the nursing home’s air conditioning. Both Hollywood police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have begun criminal investigations into the deaths, and the state Agency for Health Care Administration revoked the facility’s license and shut down the nursing home last week.
Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida on Sept. 10, cutting electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the region. Though the nursing home retained some power, the transformer responsible for its cooling system went down. Operators responded by bringing in eight portable chillers, along with fans in the hallways, to try to keep down the temperature.
But as the mercury kept rising, nursing home officials said the facility reached out to Florida Power & Light and called the governor’s cellphone in the next two days. The nursing home did not call 911 until the early hours of Sept. 13, when residents began suffering respiratory arrest and cardiac distress.
About 140 residents were eventually evacuated that morning after nurses became alarmed at the conditions of the incoming residents. Many of those evacuated were carried out 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, 93; Martha Murray, 94 and Constance Alice Thomas, 94, also died in the days after the nursing home was evacuated.
Key records, including audio of 911 calls made from the nursing home and police reports from Sept. 13 and 14, have been withheld by the city of Hollywood, citing pending investigations. The Miami Herald sued for those records Tuesday.