Eight Florida Nursing Home Residents Suffer Heat-Related Deaths in Unsafe Conditions

Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing Home Deaths Following Hurricane Irma

Eight deaths at a Florida nursing home following Hurricane Irma left people wondering – how could this happen?  Eight residents, ages 70 to 99, of Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were found dead after the facility lost power, knocking out its air conditioning system.  The remaining 141 residents were evacuated, some with temperatures of 106 degrees. While the Center had a backup generator and portable air conditioners, it was found to be excessively hot.  Specific causes of death are under investigation and suspected to be heat-related. A criminal investigation is pending.

What is most tragic is that the nursing home failed to exercise options available to it to keep residents safe after losing power.  Hollywood Hills was across the street from an operating hospital that had power.  Residents who were in danger could have been transferred there.  Another nursing home and ambulance company were available for rescue in Hollywood Hills’ hurricane plan but the facility failed to contact them when conditions became unsafe.  No employee called 911 to report that residents were in danger.  Florida Governor Rick Scott’s own cell phone number had been provided to nursing home administrators during Hurricane Irma and calls were placed to that number but no response was received for days.  It is unclear why.  The nursing home called Florida Power & Light many times, which failed to show up to fix the power until after residents had died.

Nursing Homes – Federal and State Regulations

As exemplified by this horrible incident, elderly nursing home residents are one of the most vulnerable – and neglected – segments of our population.  Sadly, Florida Power & Light reported that the nursing home facility had not been tagged as a “top-tier” priority for power restoration.  And it appears that the facility was in clear violation of federal regulations governing it.

Federal and state regulations adopted pursuant to the federal 1987 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“OBRA ’87”) govern the living conditions that long-term facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding must provide to their residents.  Under federal law, a long term care facility “must be designed, constructed, equipped, and maintained to protect the health and safety of residents, personnel and the public.” 42 C.F.R. § 483.90.  Facilities certified after October 1990 must maintain a temperature range between 71-81 degrees Fahrenheit.  42 C.F.R. § 483.15(h)(6). Facilities certified before October 1990 must still maintain safe and comfortable temperature levels.  Last week, Governor Scott directed state agencies to issue emergency rules “to keep Floridians safe in health care facilities during emergencies.”  The Rules bring nursing homes into standard with hospitals – they “must obtain ample resources, including a generator and the appropriate amount of fuel, to sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures for at least 96-hours following a power outage.”

Based on reports, the facility was in clear violation of federal regulations, and most certainly faces wrongful death lawsuits.  Several lawsuits have already been filed by the survivors of residents who died in this tragedy, alleging that nursing home administrators and staff failed to evacuate the facility after the air conditioning crashed and the temperature spiked.

Contact Bottaro Law Today

At the Bottaro Law Firm, we fight tirelessly for the rights of the injured and vulnerable who have been hurt as the result of the negligence of others.  We regularly represent victims of nursing home abuse.  Understanding the intricacies of federal and state nursing home regulations is key to our success.  Contact us today at 401-777-7777 if you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered injury at the hands of a nursing home.