Loved ones demand answers after 8 people die after Hollywood nursing home AC issue

Loved ones are demanding answers after eight people died this week, who were living at a nursing home in Hollywood that was without adequate AC following Hurricane Irma.

"There was a hospital only feet from her door, and there was help only feet away," Jeffrey Nova said. "It's just a chain of events that is hard to come to terms with so early."

A criminal investigation has been launched into deaths of Bobby Owens, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Gail Nova, 71; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Betty Hibbard, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99.

Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey said one patient died on Tuesday and the body was taken away by a funeral home.

She said the rest of the eight victims died on Wednesday and 145 patients were evacuated. Memorial Regional Hospital took in 141 of those patients.

Storey said the four others were residents of the adjoining facility, Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services. 

Local 10 News reporter Sanela Sabovic spoke to Hibbard's best friend of six decades Thursday morning.

Jean Johnson was the last person to see Hibbard alive at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

She said Hibbard had difficulty breathing the day before she died and wondered why no one was trying to get help for the people earlier.

"What a price to pay. What a price to pay -- not just my Betty, but all the people," Johnson said.

Johnson, who has been friends with Hibbard for 63 years, said Hibbard was in distress when she visited her Tuesday night.

Johnson said she asked for ice, but no one provided it.

"And she was gasping, and when you approached her -- she wasn't really crying, but tears were kind of coming. She said, 'I can't breathe. I can't breathe, Jean,'" Johnson said. 

Eatherly's close friend, Linda Horton, is also heartbroken, equating what happened at the nursing home to murder.

"Why? Why did you let this get this bad? And eight may not be the final number. It's murder," she said.

Friends and relatives of the patients rushed to the nursing home Wednesday after learning that eight people had died.

Most people said the nursing home was unbearably hot, although the facility had portable AC units running. 

"I feel like they should have transferred people yesterday," one woman told reporters on Wednesday.

Some of the patients' loved ones found out about the tragedy while watching the news.

A reporter contacted Jeffrey Nova and informed him that his mother, Gail Nova, was among those who died.

"This morning, I received a phone call, believe it or not, from a Sun Sentinel reporter who had asked me to give a biography of my mother. And not knowing what had transpired, I just kept asking her, 'What are you calling (me) regarding?'" Jeffrey Nova said.

Nova said he chose the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills for his mother because it was close to Memorial Regional Hospital.

"That was one of the reasons why she remained there, because she needed care. If there was a need for further care, it was literally feet away," Nova said.

Gov. Rick Scott directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium for the nursing home.

All patients who survived have been removed from the nursing home and taken to hospitals. The moratorium prevents the facility from admitting any patients until the order is lifted.

The governor also ordered the AHCA and the Department of Children and Families to investigate the facility.

Nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said in a statement that three of the eight patients died at the facility and the others died at the hospital they were taken to.

"Facility administration is cooperating fully with relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to this unfortunate and tragic outcome. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were affected," Carballo said.

A city spokeswoman said in a news release that Hollywood police officers conducted welfare checks on 42 nursing homes, assisted living and critical care facilities throughout the day after the deaths were reported.

One of the nursing homes also did not have AC and the patients were removed from the facility.

Memorial Healthcare Systems has established a hotline for families of the patients who were taken to its facilities for care. The number is 954-265-1074.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from News | WPLG, and written by News | WPLG. Read the original article here.

This BBSNews article originally appeared on News | WPLG.