Six Hollywood nursing home residents died Wednesday morning in a building left without air conditioning after Irma blasted South Florida, according to Hollywood police and the city.
Hollywood police have begun a criminal investigation into the deaths at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, 1200 N 35th Ave. Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said precautionary checks would be done on Hollywood’s 42 other nursing homes.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared on Twitter, “I’m going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place. Alhtough the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable.”
With the assistance of Memorial Healthcare System — Memorial Regional Hospital is across the street — officers and firefighters evacuated 115 people from the center. Another 18 were evacuated from Larkin’s behavioral health services facility Wednesday. Concerned family members can call 954-265-3000 to check on their relatives.
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Flora Mitchell, a 61-year-old Hollywood resident, came down to the center to find her sister around noon Wednesday. Sweat dripping from her for head, she said she'd been trying to get information from first responders to no avail. Her 58-year-old sister had been here 10 years. She can't talk or walk.
"I don't know if my sister is living,” Mitchell said. “Nobody’s telling us nothing."
Miami’s Mike Carvelli found the staff proactive after they evacuated his mother, who suffers from Alzeimer’s Disease. Carvelli said the staff got he and his brother on a conference call to go over his mother’s medications and care.
Carvelli said his brother was at the facility earlier this week and found it “a little warm, but not uncomfortable” and there were portable air conditioning units in use.
Three died at the nursing home. One resident of the nursing home already was dead when police got the first call. Sanchez said that call came in at either 4 a.m. or 6:25 a.m., but the hospital started moving patients at 7:15 a.m. The National Weather Service’s tracking in Hollywood put the temperature at 80 to 82 degrees overnight with a heat index of 85 to 90 after a Tuesday afternoon high temperature of 90 and a peak heat index of 99.
Hollywood Public Affairs Director Raelin Storey said there is no official cause of death yet, but a number were having resperitory issues.
Like many places in South Florida, the nursing home has been without power since being whipped by tropical storm winds with hurricane gusts on the edge of Hurricane Irma. Kitchen worker Jean Lindor said the center had power from a generator to cook meals, but no air conditioning.
The facility and its owners have been cited previously for substandard or fraudulent operations.
At least one lawsuit alleging negligence by The Rehabilitation Center is pending, continuing a A 2016 suit alleges, “the staff and employees failed to develop a proper care plan and properly monitor and supervise the care and treatment provided to Lillian Fuller in order to prevent her from suffering the development and deterioration of infections and sepsis and suffering the development and deterioration of dehyration.”
Fuller, 71, no longer lives at the center.
The state corporate registration for The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, LLC lists South Miami Dr. Jack Michel — the president, director and agent of Larkin Community Hospital — as the company’s manager.
While a nursing home has been at that location nearly 50 years, the Rehabilitation Center’s name and registration are only two years old. Larkin bought what was then called Hollywood Hills Nursing Home and Hollywood Pavilion Hospital in a 2015 bankruptcy auction after fallout from Medicare fraud convictions sunk both facilities.
This article will be updated as more is available.