The legal guardian of one of the residents of a Florida nursing home affected by Hurricane Irma last week filed a personal injury claim against the residence on Friday, September 15. The 94-year old woman claims that the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills staff’s “negligence and reckless indifference” toward their patients who suffered after the facility’s electrical system for its air conditioning units failed.
Eight residents died in the days following the lack of air conditioning and rising temperatures inside the rehabilitation center. Many other patients suffered from heat-related illnesses including respiratory distress and dehydration with some patients experiencing body temperatures up to 106 degrees. A total of 119 patients from the nursing home were admitted to nearby Memorial Regional Hospital; 39 patients remained admitted to the hospital as of September 14, 2017.
Nursing home complaint
The complaint states that the plaintiff, Rosa Cabrera, is a double amputee “without the ability to walk or live independently.” As a result of the malfunctioning air conditioning system, Cabrera alleges that she suffered heat-related injuries severe enough that she required hospitalization. Rosa states that the staff assured her that she “…would be safe and cared for” at the nursing home but that she was not told that the Rehabilitation Center did not have a generator to power the air conditioning system should the facility lose power.
The complaint goes on to say that a reasonable nursing home would have known and prepared for the probability of a power outage when warnings of the impending storm were released on September 7, 2017. According the claim, the center neglected to understand or prepare for the danger of the hurricane by failing to install a generator to backup the air conditioning system which then led to unsafe temperatures. Instead, the complaint alleges, the Rehabilitation Center assured patients and loved ones that they had everything they needed to care for the more than 150 residents and made no effort to relocate the residents or to get a proper cooling system for the residence.
In response, the Rehabilitation Center’s public relations firm released a timeline for the nursing home stating that the center’s employees called emergency hotlines, the local power utility and Governor Rick Scott’s cell phone repeatedly in the days after the air conditioning system failed on September 10. Scott’s communication director confirmed that Scott had received the messages and forwarded them to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health, and that the messages were “quickly returned.”
A statement released by the Florida Department of Health in regard to the incident said, “It is 100 percent the responsibility of health care professionals to preserve life by acting in the best interest of the health and well-being of their patients. Let’s be clear — this facility is located across the street from one of Florida’s largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities. The tragic and senseless loss at Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center is the subject of a criminal homicide investigation by law enforcement.”
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