In an emergency order Wednesday, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the license of the nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, where nine people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The AHCA is investigating the facility.
The agency questioned the integrity of medical records for the deceased patients submitted by the home, saying that they contained falsehoods. The facility wrote late entries into medical records that made the situation appear much less dire than it was, the agency said.
While one patient was in the hospital with a temperature of over 108 degrees and suffering from cardiac arrest, for example, an unnamed facility nurse “made a late entry claiming a temperature of 101.6,” the order stated.
In one “egregious” case, it said, “a late entry was added that stated the patient was resting in bed with respirations even and unlabored.” But, it added, “this resident had already died before this entry was made.”
Local and state law enforcement also are conducting a criminal investigation into the nursing home.
A lawyer for the home did not respond to email messages seeking a response and calls to his office went unanswered.
“As more information has come to light on this egregious situation, this facility absolutely cannot continue to have access to patients,” AHCA secretary Justin Senior said in a news release. “This facility failed its residents multiple times throughout this horrifying ordeal.”
Hurricane Irma knocked out power across Florida, and disabled the generator powering the air conditioning at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Sept. 10.
Even as temperatures soared into the 90s, it remained broken for several days, according to a news release from the nursing home. Portable air coolers and fans were placed throughout the facility instead.
The Florida Department of Health said that the facility “at no time” reported that its conditions had grown dangerous, according to The Washington Post. After an investigation, however, Hollywood city officials said “the facility was excessively hot.”
Though there was a hospital with working air conditioning across the street and many of the nursing home’s patients were in distress, “the trained medical professionals at the facility overwhelmingly delayed calling 911,” according to the news release from the AHCA.
As the nursing home grew hotter, its leadership also never contacted the Florida Emergency Operations Center to seek assistance with evacuation, according to court documents.
By the time the facility called authorities and transported its ailing residents to the hospital, some had body temperatures as high as 109.9 degrees — “far too late to be saved,” the news release stated.
Eight residents — Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Betty Hibbard, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Gail Nova, 71; Bobby Owens, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99 — died soon thereafter.
Carlos Canal, the ninth patient, died nearly a week later.
“No amount of emergency preparedness could have prevented the gross medical and criminal recklessness that occurred at this facility,” Senior said.
The nine deaths made national headlines and caused many prominent politicians to speak out. Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott called the situation “unfathomable,” while Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, called it “inexcusable.”
“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” Scott said in a statement last week. “Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe — especially patients that are in poor health.”
The facility defended itself in the immediate aftermath, claiming it “diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma,” even as the state issued an emergency moratorium on the nursing home admitting new patients last Wednesday.
“Staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility and continually checked on our residents’ well-being to ensure they were hydrated,” nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said in a news release. “We are devastated by these losses. We are fully cooperating with all authorities and regulators to assess what went wrong and to ensure our other residents are cared for.”
The facility, though, has a history of citations. Since 2010, violations were recorded on 23 different visits, according to The Post.
These included patients being left in their nightgowns and facing televisions that were turned off, while others were left unshaven and with untrimmed nails. Smoke alarms, emergency exits and the home’s emergency generator have all previously been reported for deficiencies as well.