The infamous Florida nursing home responsible for the deaths of 12 residents during Hurricane Irma stands for many as a testament to all that is wrong with the elderly care system in our nation. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills lost power for several days during the storm, leaving residents without air conditioning in stifling conditions. Twelve residents lost their lives to heat exposure in what the medical examiner ruled as homicides. A hospital right across the street from the facility had power the entire time.
In response to state actions revoking the facility’s license due the deaths, Hollywood Hills lawyers filed a lawsuit complaining that the state’s actions were unfair. At the end of last month as part of the case, the first responders sent to evacuate the facility gave accounts of the “haunting” conditions, according to the Sun-Sentinel. First responder Craig Wohlitka told the court, “The lack of care that these people were experiencing and just the conditions they were experiencing. In all honesty, this call is still very much haunting.”
The responders painted a picture of patients’ needs being ignored by staff members despite emergency crews asking if patients who looked unwell needed assistance. At the time, the crews had no reason to doubt the competency of the staff—but that soon changed. Hollywood Fire-Rescue Lt. Amy Parrinello testified she had already called to report the conditions to the state’s Department of Children and Families when she found the first dead patient on their fourth trip to the home in two days, according to the news source.
After a second and third death along with additional patient transfers to the hospital across the street launched an evacuation of the 152-person facility, she testified first responders doubted how truthful the staff had been about actually checking on patients. The day everyone was evacuated Parrinello’s first patient from the nursing home registered a 107.5 degree fever, she testified. The second was so high it didn’t register, and the third also had a temperature of 107.5 degrees.
The testimony from first responders clearly shows the priority of Hollywood Hills staff was not the safety and well-being of its residents. Unfortunately, this disregard for patient safety is all too common, and life-saving measures often don’t make it to fruition, as was the case with a rule to require Florida nursing homes to have backup generators. A decision on whether the nursing home will be able to continue to operate has yet to be made.
Throughout this debacle, industry and nursing home trade groups, including the American Health Care Association, have continued to block federal and state government efforts to protect residents from such abuse and neglect and preserve consumer rights to seek justice.