Wrongful Deaths at A Hollywood Hills, FL Nursing Home During Hurricane Irma Led to Tighter Regulations
Wrongful deaths at a Hollywood Hills, FL nursing home during Hurricane Irma have led to tighter regulations for Florida nursing homes and Assisted Living Facilities (AFLs). The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills lost power following Hurricane Irma on September 10, 2017. The 150-bed facility had a small generator to power lights and some equipment, but not enough to run the central air conditioning system. The lack of air conditioning allowed interior temperatures to reach 99 degrees.
Fourteen Residents Died from Extreme Heat Exhaustion and Dehydration
Rehabilitation Center officials said they followed emergency procedures. They supplied residents with fans, portable cooling units, and water. Yet, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) cited the facility on several deficiencies:
- In the three days after Irma, temperatures on the second floor reached 99 degrees. This violates state law requiring nursing homes to maintain safe temperatures even during power outages. Interior temperatures cannot exceed 81 degrees or else residents must be relocated to a cooler location.
- Paramedics evacuated residents to a nearby hospital after 62 hours in the extreme heat. Eight people died the same day, and six more died soon after.
- Five nurses’ aides worked in the days after Hurricane Irma. Fifteen aides are recommended to care for 141 residents.
- Both victims and survivors were dehydrated. This contradicts the claim that the home brought residents ice and water at regular intervals.
- The facility’s top supervisor, the director of nursing, left the nursing home on September 11. She returned only when residents were being evacuated to the hospital two days later.
- In its findings, the state cited that the facility “failed to provide appropriate health care” and did not protect the victims from neglect.
The Broward County Police Department opened a criminal investigation. The Rehabilitation Center had its license revoked and was soon closed. The facility owners said they followed necessary emergency procedures. Center staff telephoned for help from state officials including Florida Governor Rick Scott but said that their calls were ignored.
Tighter Regulations for Nursing Homes and ALFs
In March of 2018, the Florida legislature created new regulations after the wrongful deaths of 12 nursing home residents. Starting July 1, 2018, Florida nursing homes and ALFs must have generators and enough fuel to run for 72 hours. ALFs with less than 17 beds must have fuel for generators to run for 48 hours. Nursing homes must have equipment to regulate interior temperatures not to exceed 81 degrees for 96 hours after a power outage.
Will these new requirements prevent similar tragedies? It is worth noting that the Hollywood Hills facility ignored earlier temperature requirements. The new laws do not specify that nursing homes must have enough generator power to run the central air conditioning. This means facilities can use fans and portable air-cooling units. These portable units can worsen conditions if they are improperly ventilated.
A Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Can Help Survivors and Family Members of Victims
Broward County law enforcement ruled 12 of the 14 deaths as homicides. There is a possibility that the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills will face criminal charges. However, only a civil suit seeks potential compensation for pain and suffering and other recoverable damages.
Several family members of victims filed wrongful death lawsuits against the Rehabilitation Center. Florida law requires family members to file wrongful death lawsuits within two years of the incident. Family members might be eligible to recover damages including:
- Pain and suffering of the victim prior to death
- Pain and suffering to surviving family members
- Medical bills related to the incident
How to Help Your Loved One Stay Safe in a Nursing Home
Florida’s new regulations for nursing home emergency procedures will help keep seniors safe from heat stroke and heat exhaustion. However, family members can take added precautions to further protect their loved one:
- Take time to examine potential nursing homes and ALFs. Check with proper agencies for violations.
- Visit a potential home at least twice, with one visit unannounced to facility administrators.
- Ask the administrator about emergency management procedures, including how the facility will keep ambient temperatures at 81 degrees after a power outage.
- Talk to residents about their everyday routine and their level of comfort with staff members.
- Stay involved with your loved one after they move in. Pay close attention to weather conditions if you believe they could lead to a power outage.