8 dead, others evacuated at Hollywood nursing home without power after Irma

Eight Hollywood nursing home residents died Wednesday morning in a building left without air conditioning after Irma roared through South Florida, according to Hollywood police and the city.

The home is directly across from a hospital.

Hollywood police have begun a criminal investigation into the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, 1200 N. 35th Ave. while the Agency for Health Care Administration and Department of Children & Families have begun their own investigations. Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said precautionary checks would be done on Hollywood’s 42 other nursing homes.

The owner of the nursing home also is an officer of Larkin Community Hospital, a medical center with a troubled history.

The Broward Medical Examiner’s office list of those who died while stating the cause of death has not been officially determined: Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Betty Hibbard, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Gail Nova, 71; Bobby Owens, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared in a statement, “I’m going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place. Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable.”

Another part of the release from Scott’s office stated:

“The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is responsible for the safety of their patients. Department of Health officials have been in contact with Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services management and the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills over the past three days. Hospital administrators were advised to call 911 if they had any reason to believe that the health or safety of patients was at risk.

Tuesday afternoon, the center reported to AHCA that it had power and access to fans and spot coolers provided by Memorial Healthcare.”

Like many places in South Florida, the nursing home has been without power since being whipped by tropical storm-force winds with hurricane gusts on the edge of Hurricane Irma. The Florida Health Care Association said Wednesday 150 of 700 nusring home facilities around the state didn’t have full power.

Miami’s Mike Carvelli, whose mother is at The Rehabilitation Center, said his brother was there earlier this week and found it “a little warm, but not uncomfortable” and there were portable air conditioning units in use. Kitchen worker Jean Lindor said the center had power from a generator to cook meals, but no air conditioning.

With the assistance of Memorial Healthcare — Memorial Regional Hospital sits across the street — officers and firefighters evacuated 115 people from the center. Concerned family members can call 954-265-3000 to check on their relatives.

Flora Mitchell, a 61-year-old Hollywood resident, came down to the center to find her sister around noon Wednesday. Sweat dripping from her forehead, she said she’d been trying to get information from first responders to no avail. She said her 58-year-old sister, who can’t talk or walk, has been there 10 years.

“I don’t know if my sister is living,” Mitchell said. “Nobody’s telling us nothing.”

Carvelli found staff members proactive after they evacuated his mother. Carvelli said the staff got him and his brother on a conference call to go over the medications and care for her Alzeimer’s.

“This is an inexcusable tragedy that frail patients would die of heat exhaustion without it being recognized and taking them to the hospital next door,” read a statement from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. “I have spoken with the Secretary of Health and Human Services to get to the bottom of this. We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our seniors safe during this difficult time.”

Three of Wednesday’s eight deaths occurred at the nursing home. Hollywood Fire Rescue responded at 3 a.m. to a call about someone having a heart attack at 3 a.m.. They were back at 4 a.m. to transport a patient with breathing problems, the city of Hollywood stated in a Wednesday evening release.

“After the second call was completed, the Fire Lieutenant notified a Battalion Chief and called the Department of Children and Families to report concerns about the facility,” the release stated. “Shortly thereafter, a third call for patient transport came in. Additional Fire Rescue crews were dispatched and began going through the facility. Memorial clinical staff also responded to the facility. A total of three patients were found deceased on the second floor of the facility and several other patients in varying degrees of medical distress were transported.”

Sanchez said, “It’s extremely hot on the second floor of the facility.”

The National Weather Service’s tracking in Hollywood put the temperature at 80 to 82 degrees overnight with a heat index of 85 to 90 after a Tuesday afternoon high temperature of 90 and a peak heat index of 99.

The center and its owners have been cited previously for substandard or fraudulent operations.

At least one lawsuit alleging negligence by the Rehabilitation Center is pending. The 2016 suit alleges “the staff and employees failed to develop a proper care plan and properly monitor and supervise the care and treatment provided to Lillian Fuller in order to prevent her from suffering the development and deterioration of infections and sepsis and suffering the development and deterioration of dehydration.”

Fuller, 71, no longer lives at the center.

The state corporate registration for the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, LLC lists South Miami Dr. Jack Michel — the president, director and agent of Larkin Community Hospital — as the company’s manager.

While a nursing home has been at that location nearly 50 years, the Rehabilitation Center’s name and registration are only two years old. Larkin bought what was then called Hollywood Hills Nursing Home and Hollywood Pavilion Hospital in a 2015 bankruptcy auction after fallout from Medicare fraud convictions sunk both facilities.

This article will be updated as more information is available.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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