Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration took action to immediately suspend the license of a nursing home in Hollywood Hills. During Hurricane Irma the facility lost its air conditioning, exposing residents to dangerously warm temperatures. Effective immediately, the facility is not permitting to function as a nursing home, accept any new patients, or participate in Medicaid.
During the period in which the air conditioning was not functioning, nine residents died, which prompted an investigation. It was determined that staff members had made late medical record entries regarding the deceased in what is believed to be an effort to hide their failures to follow proper operating procedure. The records were completed after several of the residents had died, yet showed that their vital signs appeared to be normal at the time.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills facility is a 152-bed site skilled nursing site which has operated for over 30 years located directly across the street from Hollywood’s Memorial Regional Hospital.
One 84-year-old patient’s specific time-marked record indicated the patient was resting and breathing normally; however, this patient had already been pronounced dead by the time the observation was “supposedly” made. One erroneous record showed a patient’s temperature as being 101.6 degrees at the time of observation; unfortunately, at this time the patient had already been admitted to the local hospital and had died.
Justin Senior, an Agency Secretary, was astonished that medical staff did not call 911 during this state of emergency. He described many of the actions taken as being an example of “gross medical and criminal recklessness”. Florida law allows the Agency to intervene and take any actions necessary in response to conditions deemed to be a serious risk to the safety, health, or welfare of those with special needs.
At the time, the region had more than adequate emergency responders available due to the dangerous hurricane passing through the region. In addition, a hospital located across the street had fully functional air conditioning and could have accommodated many of the more vulnerable residents. Governor Rick Scott spoke out stating that the facility failed in their responsibilities to safeguard human life. He reiterated that 911 should have been called immediately and an evacuation of the facility should have been promptly underway.
According to NBC News 6 Miami, it is yet to be determined whether claims beyond negligence would be applicable. The key determinant will be if the staff at the nursing facility acted in a manner deemed “culpably negligent”. The state defines this as conscious actions or conduct that are knowingly executed which would likely lead to injury or death. Negligence alone is when actions do not reach the standards of care. Culpable negligence is generally demonstrated by a failure to take any action to remedy a problematic situation.