Nursing home deaths: 10th resident dies after staying in facility without power
Medical staff at the Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida described the scene as patients from a nearby nursing home arrived in the early morning hours after eight patients died days after Hurricane Irma. (Sept. 14) AP
A 10th elderly resident from a Hollywood nursing home died after spending several days in sweltering temperatures when Hurricane Irma knocked out power and no other electricity was available for air conditioning, authorities announced Thursday.
Hollywood police identified the latest victim as Martha Murray, 94, who died Wednesday from complications related to the loss of power and air conditioning at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.
But the nursing home claims Murray was discharged Sept. 13, the day when other patients were found dead at the facility. The nursing home staff did not know she had died.
"Hollywood Hills cares for residents, including residents in hospice care in terminal condition," Tampa lawyer Kristen Ullman wrote. "Hollywood Hills has not been provided any information regarding this former resident’s passing.
"Hollywood Hills sends deepest condolences to the family at this time of loss."
Eight other residents died Sept. 13, and other patients were evacuated after staff called 911. The nursing home had a generator operating lifesaving equipment during Irma but did not have a generator to take over after an electric transformer powering its air conditioning was damaged. A ninth resident died later.
The nursing home is facing at least one lawsuit filed by the family of a resident who died. A lawyer representing the family of 99-year-old Albertina Vega has filed a complaint in Broward County Court that said there were only "a few" spot coolers placed around the facility and that staff failed to take prompt action.
"Rather than taking significant proactive measures to safely remove its residents or establish a non-hazardous environment for the residents, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills allowed its residents to swelter in the heat, and reside in unsafe and unsanitary conditions," the suit states.
The suit asks a judge to secure key evidence in the nursing home.
The 152-bed facility is under a criminal investigation conducted by the Hollywood Police Department and other agencies, and it's facing action by the state.
The facility had its license suspended Wednesday by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration after an investigation determined four of the patients who died at a nearby hospital had body temperatures ranging from 107 to 109.9 degrees. Nurses at the facility also took too long to complete patient records and made entries after the deaths, agency investigators said.
But Ullman said an AHCA statement failed to mention the abundance of staff providing residents with hydration and using small "spot coolers" to keep them comfortable.
"There were multiple third party health care providers attending to their patients, such as physicians and their physician assistant, hospice, EMTs along with our care giving staff, as well as family members present during the time period between Tuesday and the early morning hours of Wednesday," Ullman said. "AHCA has released a statement making allegations which simply do not describe the conditions observed by these multiple care givers."
The nursing home has filed a lawsuit protesting orders issued by Gov. Rick Scott barring it from accepting new patients or Medicaid payments. In its complaint, the facility argued staff followed an emergency plan pre-established with Broward County. It also argues staff repeatedly called Florida Power & Light to repair a transformer that powered the air conditioning system but received no response.
But Scott and other state agency leaders note the nursing home failed to call 911 to help patients after the power went out and did not transfer any of them to a hospital across the street.
Hollywood police have requested assistance from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to help with the investigation. FDLE has asked anyone with information in the case to call 866-452-3461.