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Eight dead at Florida nursing home where Hurricane Irma knocked out power

Sun Sentinel
September 14, 2017


Eight people died in a Hollywood, Florida, nursing home that had no air conditioning after Hurricane Irma knocked out power.

The Broward Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the eight deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills Wednesday afternoon.

The victims were identified as Bobby Owens, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Gail Nova, 71; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Betty Hibbard, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99.

Police said 115 seniors were also evacuated after sweltering for days - the center's backup generator does not power the air conditioner, the facility's administrator, Jorge Carballo said through a representative Wednesday.

Nursing homes like Hollywood Hills are the places licensed to take the sickest disabled and elder Floridians - people who can't walk, are in the last stages of dementia or can't breathe on their own. They are also among the most vulnerable when a hurricane knocks out power, officials said.

-- "We met with Broward in early March," said Florida Power & Light spokesman Ron Gould. "This facility was not listed as a top-tier critical infrastructure facility."

-- Jack Michel, owner of the facility, was accused in 2004 of federal and state health care fraud charges, according to the Department of Justice. He and three others eventually settled the case.

- Regulators do not require nursing homes like Hollywood Hills to have generators, and there are still 150 nursing homes in the state without power.

-- State Sen. Gary Farmer, whose district includes the center, said the county is now checking with every nursing home and every assisted living facility every two hours to find out if it has power.

-- Farmer said he also wants to know who was in charge at the facility as conditions worsened. "The reports we're getting now are there was no one from ownership or management in the facility," he said.

-- Governor Rick Scott announced the Florida Department of Children of Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration have also opened investigations.

-- The center is currently rated two stars in Medicare's five-star ranking system. It has one star regarding health inspections.

Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez said police are treating the incident as a "criminal investigation."

The conditions of the evacuated residents were not known. City spokeswoman Raelin Storey said some of the evacuated patients were in respiratory distress. It was not clear how long the center had been without power.

Before the names of the dead were made public, family members of the facility's residents gathered outside the facility looking for answers and worried about their loved ones.

Flora Mitchell, of Dania Beach, said her 58-year-old sister Vonda Wilson has been at the center for 10 years since having a stroke.

"I want to know if my sister is alive," she said. "I last talked to her two days ago. We don't know if she's one of the dead or not. I came here to find out. They should let the families know."

Guillermo "Willy" Nunez, of Cooper City, came to the center to check on his sister-in-law's mother. He desperately sought any news of her condition.

"I want to find my family member," he said, his voice breaking. "My wife told me to please go over there."

He said the woman, who is like a grandmother to him, is in her 80s and has been living at the rehab center for about two years. His family had not gotten news from the facility of his relative's condition nor had heard exactly what went wrong inside.

The facility has a backup generator, but it does not power the air conditioning, administrator Jorge Carballo said through a representative Wednesday morning. The building uses two transformers - one for the building and one for the air conditioning. The transformer for the building came back on after the storm. The one to power the air conditioning was damaged and not working as of Wednesday morning.

"Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were affected," Carballo said in a statement released by the center.

Police said they will be checking the approximately 42 assisted living facilities throughout the city for any other patients in distress.

Patients from a behavioral unit of another nearby facility, the Larkin Community Hospital, were also being evacuated, officials said.

Sharief said she's been concerned about the lack of power to facilities that are home to the elderly and others particularly vulnerable to the heat. The mayor said that she and County Administrator Bertha Henry pressed Florida Power & Light Co. on Tuesday to expedite power restoration to such facilities.

County Commissioner Beam Furr, whose district includes Hollywood, said the situation is critical at places where older residents are effectively trapped because the lack of power means elevators don't work.


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