On September 10, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm. The wind caused a significant amount of damage to the state and the immense amount of rain caused wide-spread flooding. More than 6.8 million people lost electricity, including in homes, apartment buildings, hospitals, and nursing homes. Unfortunately, a power outage means much more than moving about in the dark. In Florida in September, it means a dangerous lack air conditioning, medical equipment, and medications. In at least one Florida nursing home, the power outage had disastrous effects. The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills has been closed, had its license suspended, and is under criminal investigation by local, state, and federal authorities after twelve nursing home deaths occurred during Hurricane Irma.

A Catastrophic Loss of Power in Florida Nursing Home

A 911 call regarding cardiac arrest brought emergency responders to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on September 13. When the emergency crew arrived, they found more than one patient was in significant danger due to the facility’s loss of power and air conditioning.

Staff members from Hollywood Memorial Hospital, which is across the street, were called to help. Employees from the hospital entered the rehabilitation facility and evacuated approximately 140 people, some of whom were in critical condition. Three residents were found deceased at the facility, one passed away during the evacuation, and four more passed away at hospitals that day. Four other residents passed away throughout September. The deceased residents were between the ages of 57 and 99. Many suffered from dehydration and other heat-related illnesses.

Previous Citations for the Florida Facility

Local, state, and federal authorities are currently looking into whether any criminal charges are appropriate. It may be relevant the facility does not have a spotless past. The rehabilitation center was previously cited by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration for issues with its temporary generators. In February 2016, the facility was unable to produce written documentation to substantiate the use of a temporary generator. In December 2014, an inspection uncovered that a remote generator alarm failed to work when tested. That same inspection found the facility was not in substantial compliance with safety requirements for working with Medicare and Medicaid and had multiple changes it needed to make.

Following the deaths and evacuation, Hollywood’s Building and Engineering Services and the fire marshal inspected the building. The city cited the rehabilitation center for two violations of working without the proper permits when it previously added a cooling tower to the existing chiller system and a temporary standby generator that would be tied into the building’s electrical system. Inspectors also found electrical hazards in the facility’s mechanical room.

Many Involved Facing Criminal Charges

Depending on the criminal investigation’s findings, the owners, operators, and staff members of the facility could face criminal charges including elder abuse or neglect and homicide. If the police find evidence of culpable negligence, then one or more individuals could be charged with manslaughter under Florida law. Based on Florida Criminal Code Section 782.02(s), anyone who causes the death of an elderly person or disabled adult by culpable negligence commits aggravated manslaughter of an elderly or disabled person, a first-degree felony.

Neglect of an elderly person or disabled adult is defined by Florida Criminal Code Section 825.102(3), which includes a caregiver’s failure or omission to provide any elderly or disabled person with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the elderly or disabled person’s physical and mental health, and the medical services that a prudent person would consider essential to that elderly or disabled person’s well-being. Neglect also includes a caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect an elderly or disabled person from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another individual.

Nursing Home Caregivers Need an Experienced Criminal Lawyer

If an owner, operator, or staff member of the rehabilitation center is convicted of aggravated manslaughter of an elderly person or disabled adult, they face up to 30 years in prison. Elder abuse and neglect charges are also felonies that can result in years in prison, high fines, and numerous collateral consequences. These significant penalties are why it is essential that nursing home owners and staff work with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Erika Valcarcel.

Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. is prepared to handle a myriad of types of criminal cases, including elder abuse or neglect and manslaughter. Contact attorney Erika Valcarcel at (941) 363-7900 to learn more.

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