Hurricane Irma and its devastating effects on local communities has reportedly claimed the lives of more than a dozen patients at Florida’s Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center after the complex lost power due to the storm. Patients Cecilia Franco, 90, and her husband Miguel Antonio Franco, 93, passed after the air conditioning stopped working, along with eleven others. Francesca Andrade, 95, has also now been pronounced dead. Although the facility evidently had portable air conditioning units operating, many indicated the rooms were unreasonably hot for an extended period of time, leaving the center open to an investigation.
The Franco’s children filed a wrongful death lawsuit last month claiming that the center, where they had placed their mother in hospice care, was negligent. The lawsuit claimed Hollywood Hills failed to provide “reliable and effective air conditioning systems to operate in the event of an inevitable and foreseeable power outage” leaving its residents “in extreme heat and deplorable conditions.”
“The death of Cecilia Franco has compounded this unnecessary tragedy for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren,” said the family’s attorneys, Albert Levin and Curtis Miner, in a joint statement. “Her family will pursue this case until a complete explanation has been received and complete justice has been obtained.”
The Franco’s son, Pedro, said, “According to what I saw, there was no calls saying that there was any patients in distress. So I don’t know what happened after that. But what I saw, none of those calls stated that there was an emergency.”
The Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the facility’s license to operate following the onset of the investigation and all of its 245 employees have been laid off. According to the suspension report, residents already had body temperatures of over 100 degrees when they arrived at Memorial Regional Hospital right across the street. Also according to the filing, Hollywood Hills staff made numerous late entries into the affected patients’ medical records. The agency’s secretary, Justin Senior, claimed nurses made entries “under dubious circumstances” hours after patients had been visited.
The nursing home administrator, Jorge Carballo, blamed “a prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility’s air-conditioning system as a result of the hurricane.” In a released statement, he indicated, “In compliance with state regulations, the center did have a generator on standby in the event it would be needed to power life safety systems. Additionally, when the transformer powering the A/C went down, staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility.”
Furthermore, Hollywood Hills staff blamed Governor Rick Scott for not responding to calls for help on a state-provided emergency line. Governor Scott fired back, “No amount of finger-pointing by the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Facility and Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services will hide the fact that this health care facility failed to do their basic duty to protect lives.” Scott and Senator Bill Nelson instead claim the facility’s staff is at fault for not sending patients to the hospital sooner and immediately involving local first responders.
The exact cause of the demise of the patients’ who perished after the storm has not been released, as the Hollywood Hills home is amid an ongoing criminal investigation.