Nursing Home Deaths Become Criminal Investigation in Irma's Wake

When there is a power loss at a medical facility, the results can be tragic. That’s why it is imperative that nursing homes keep their generators properly maintained and operational at all times. Power loss is likely during tropical storms and hurricanes, and nursing homes have a duty to their residents -- who are unable to care for themselves -- to be prepared.

When Hurricane Irma knocked out the power at The Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, Florida, the consequences were devastating. With the air conditioning out, some of the patients began to experience respiratory distress along with other medical concerns. Frail and elderly residents can be extremely vulnerable to heat.

On the day of the center’s evacuation after a prolonged power failure (the exact duration is not certain), Jorge Carballo, the facility’s administrator, commented on the deaths of the senior citizens.

“Facility administration has been in communication with Florida Power & Light and the Governor's office since the beginning of Hurricane Irma, and is cooperating fully with relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to this unfortunate and tragic outcome,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were affected.”

Prior Violations and Insufficient Backup

During a February 2016 inspection of the facility, nursing home inspectors cited The Rehabilitation Center for violations related to the maintenance and testing of their generators, as well as other issues like fire protective construction surrounding exits. According to state records, those violations had been addressed the next month.

The facility has two transformers, one of which powers the building while the other powers the air conditioning. Unfortunately, the one that powered the air conditioning suffered damage from the storm and was not working.

There was a backup generator for the building, but not for the air conditioning, according to Carballo.

The Deadly Consequences

As a result of the air conditioning’s failure, three people died at the facility and three more were pronounced dead later at Memorial Regional Hospital. The causes of death were not immediately known.

Facility manager Jack Michel has previously been accused of federal and state health care fraud charges for admitting patients to Larkin Community Hospital in Miami for medically unnecessary treatment. This happened about a decade ago, and Michel worked with five others in the scheme -- and got kickbacks from it.

Power failure is extremely dangerous for nursing home residents because of their vulnerability to heat and their dependence on elevators to get out of the building. Not having a proper backup plan for power failures is a colossal mistake on The Rehabilitation Center’s part -- and one that may have cost six people their lives.

Nursing home abuse and neglect is a very real danger, even if it turns out to not be the case with this tragedy. Be vigilant for your loved ones and keep an eye on the nursing home facility where they live - so something like this doesn’t happen again.
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