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Medical Examiner: Nursing Home Could Have Saved Lives After Hurricane, But Failed

A Broward County Medical Examiner’s pathologist testified recently in county court that nursing home staffers at a Hollywood Hills nursing home had opportunity after opportunity to save patients from heat stroke in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Yet, staffers and administrators failed to seize those opportunities, instead never increasing their services to meet the enhanced needs of patients who were succumbing to unbearably hot summer temperatures with little respite. When it was all over, 12 patients lost their lives. 

The Sun Sentinel reports the pathologist’s testimony examined whether there were available remedies to help prevent heat stroke among the vulnerable adults at the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center. What she discovered was that staffers weren’t doing anything really above and beyond their typical duties – even though they had totally lost function of their air conditioning units in blazing heat.

She relayed to the court there were no records that staffers sought to provide even rudimentary measures of relief, such as cold compresses, ice chips or cold water that would help lower patients’ temperatures to a safe level. This nursing home had “a real opportunity to save some lives here,” the pathologist was quoted as saying. Yet, they didn’t.

The testifying pathologist performed nearly half of the autopsies on those patients, one of whom had an astonishing 109.9 temperature at the time of death.

Fire rescue crews with the City of Hollywood were summoned to the center nearly half a dozen times between Sept. 10th and Sept. 13th. On their fifth visit, it was those EMS workers who ultimately made the official call to evacuate the nursing home. The pathologist said it shouldn’t have taken nearly that long, and the nursing home should have taken such action on its own much sooner.

Her testimony, which spanned more than five hours, is part of a civil process to ascertain whether the nursing home’s license should be revoked.

An attorney for the nursing home argued at that same hearing that nursing home administrators were hesitant to move the patients because they were concerned that the stress of evacuation on its own could potentially be life-threatening for some of these individuals.

Also providing testimony was a lieutenant overseeing the police department’s homicide unit. He explained his department was stretched extremely thin post-Irma, with officers working around-the-clock. He described the initial scene upon arrival as “controlled chaos,” and noted right away that it was significantly more hot inside the nursing home than outside, and also that the facility was rank with the smell of urine and feces. Officers took photos of several portable air conditioners situated throughout the center. Investigators are still looking into whether the positioning of those coolers was faulty, resulting in further increasing temperatures – the opposite of the intended effect.

The court will hold another hearing next month before making its final determination of whether to shutter the facility.

Our nursing home neglect attorneys in West Palm Beach work to hold nursing homes accountable for their failure to adequately prepare for the safety and well-being of residents in emergency situations. Yes, facilities and staffers may be given a bit more latitude as far as the standards to which they are held, but nursing homes in South Florida know that hurricanes are going to happen. With this knowledge, these sites have to be fully prepared with adequate staffing, policies and supplies. If any of these fall short, administrators must step up and admit to these shortcomings and seek intervention for the protection of their patients’ health. A failure to do so is clear grounds for a negligence lawsuit.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Nursing home staff had chance to save lives, pathologist testifies, Feb. 1, 2018, By Brian Ballou, The Sun Sentinel

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$5.2M Awarded to Nurse Fired for Reporting Nursing Home Abuse, Jan. 20, 2018, West Palm Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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