Hollywood Hills Bills Resident Deceased After Hurricane Irma
Albertina Vega, a former Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center resident, was one of the fourteen who lost their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The center was left without power or air conditioning and the sweltering heat was unbearable for the elderly. Yet, despite losing her life, she was billed $958 by the facility on what would have been her 100th birthday.
One of Vega’s relatives noticed the charge had been automatically pulled from the deceased woman’s account when she attempted to close it. The auto-payment resulted in an overdraft fee, and a complaint was promptly filed with the bank manager. The family claimed they were unable to reach the nursing home’s staff for assistance with the error.
Vega’s relatives live right around the corner from the center, and Carmen Fernandez, the wife of Vega’s cousin, would often visit her. Vega suffered from dementia and was starting to lose her vision because of macular degeneration. Yet, “she never forgot my voice,” Fernandez said.
When the air conditioning went out, Fernandez wasn’t notified. She said she would have taken Vega to her home, which never lost power. After news of Vega’s death, Fernandez went to the home and said it felt like it was 150 degrees inside. “The blouse I had on was soaked,” she explained. “The heat I felt, can you imagine those little old people?”
Elie Pina, a relative of another female resident at Hollywood Hills added, “It felt like 110, 115 degrees in there. They had patients in the hall, they were trying to take care of them.” The center’s generator was eventually able to restore electricity and other systems, but not the air conditioner.
Pina said she attempted to report the outage to Florida Power & Light four times, but like many others who made calls that night, Pina felt her requests seemed to fall on deaf ears. A criminal investigation has since been opened.
Hollywood Hills staff claimed several 911 calls were placed by the center after a tree branch knocked out the transformer responsible for cooling the center. The first call was made to report a patient in cardiac arrest. A second was made after another patient was struggling to breathe. Only after the third call did rescue personnel truly began to grasp the severity of the situation and take action. By the time they arrived, three residents had already lost their lives.
According to nursing home officials, the Broward Emergency Operations Center was contacted, and the issues were relayed to Florida Power & Light as a “mission critical” emergency. However, since the onset of the investigation, the county has stated FPL refused to speed up its response to senior living facilities, and FPL has responded the county never listed nursing homes as critical facilities in power outages.
Rescue workers eventually evacuated all 158 patients and sent them to Memorial Regional Hospital and other facilities nearby before summoning police. Unfortunately, these efforts proved to be too little too late, and everyone is looking to pass the buck as the investigation continues to unfold. It also remains unclear whether Vega is the only deceased resident who received a final bill for care.