10th resident of Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills dies

A 10th resident of a Hollywood nursing home that had an air-conditioning issue after Hurricane Irma has died.

Martha Murray, 94, died Wednesday, the Hollywood Police Department announced Thursday.

Murray was the most recent resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills to die from heat-related issues in the days after Irma.

“It’s disgusting,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “My heart goes out to every one of those family members who lost a loved one.” 

The Agency for Health Care Administration announced Wednesday that it issued an emergency suspension order on the license of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. 

According to the order, residents at the facility had body temperatures of more than 100 degrees when they arrived at Memorial Regional Hospital, across the street from the nursing home.

Justin Senior, secretary for the state agency, wrote in the order that the facility also made many “late entries” into patients’ medical records, claiming that the entries were made “under dubious circumstances” hours after a nurse visited the patients.

One of the people who died last week had a body temperature of 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit, while others had body temperatures of 108.5, 108.3 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit, the order claims.

The AHCA previously banned the facility from admitting new patients and from receiving Medicaid. The nursing home has filed a lawsuit trying to block those orders.

“We just simply can’t allow natural disasters like a hurricane to knock out power and then to put the frail, elderly’s lives in jeopardy because of the heat,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said.

A tip line has been established by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Investigators are asking anyone with information about the deaths or the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills between the dates of Sept. 9 and Sept. 13 to call (866) 452-3461.  

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State suspends license of Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills

A Hollywood nursing home in the midst of a criminal investigation into the deaths of nine residents after Hurricane Irma had its license suspended Wednesday.

The Agency for Health Care Administration announced Wednesday that it issued an emergency suspension order on the license of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

According to the order, residents at the facility had body temperatures of more than 100 degrees when they arrived at Memorial Regional Hospital, across the street from the nursing home.

Justin Senior, secretary for the state agency, wrote in the order that the facility also made many “late entries” into patients’ medical records, claiming that the entries were made “under dubious circumstances” hours after a nurse visited the patients.

One of the people who died last week had a body temperature of 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit, while others had body temperatures of 108.5, 108.3 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit, the order claims.

Hollywood police said Tuesday that a ninth person died after an air conditioning issue that nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo blamed on “a prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility’s air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane.”

The AHCA previously banned the facility from admitting new patients and from receiving Medicaid. The nursing home has filed a lawsuit trying to block those orders.

“As more information has come to light on this egregious situation, this facility absolutely cannot continue to have access to patients,” Senior said in a statement. “This facility failed its residents multiple times throughout this horrifying ordeal. It is unfathomable that a medical professional would not know to call 911 immediately in an emergency situation. The facility also entered late entries into medical records claiming safe temperatures for patients while those same patients were across the street dying in the emergency room with temperatures of over 108 degrees Fahrenheit.”

According to the order, several residents suffered respiratory or cardiac distress between 1:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. Sept. 13 at the nursing home, which was using eight portable coolers and fans in the halls while it was without air conditioning.

“The action AHCA took today to close the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center sends a clear message — if you do not protect the patients that are entrusted in your care, you will be held accountable,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. “The more we learn about this facility’s reckless behavior, the more concerning it becomes that the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center made the decision not to immediately call 911 or evacuate to one of the state’s largest hospitals located across the street — which never lost power. We will not stop demanding answers to these questions on behalf of every family who lost a loved one.”

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South Florida state senator used FPL connections to have power restored to family

A day after the outskirts of Hurricane Irma pounded South Florida, causing hundreds of thousands to lose power, one local politician attempted to use her Florida Power & Light connections to restore electricity to the homes of her family.

A series of text messages to an FPL lobbyist beginning on Monday, Sept. 11 shows Florida Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-North Miami Beach, sent company Vice President John Holley the addresses for her mother and sister, requesting help with power restoration.

“I am helping people, helping constituents with some of their lights,” Campbell told Local 10 News. “I have done nothing wrong for all this news, news, news, news.”

Rise News was first to report the story and Campbell confirmed to them that the texts were real.

Campbell, who represents District 38, which includes Miami Beach, North Miami, and other parts of northeastern Miami-Dade County, confirmed the texts at an event Saturday night.

The first text to Holley came at 1:55 p.m. on Monday, with Campbell requesting help as she had a sick person in her house on oxygen.

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After Holley replied that he would work on the matter, Campbell immediately texted back that it was her sister’s house, not her own.

A day later, Campbell texted again saying the power was still not on at her sister’s house, and then asked for help at her mother’s house.

Holley wrote back “I will def let them know,” referring to FPL.

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FPL confirms the text exchanges took place, but denied any wrongdoing on Holley’s part.

“I am positive that she did not receive special treatment,” FPL spokesperson Mark Bubriski told Rise News. 

Campbell told Local 10 that her mother is a constituent and her medical condition made her a priority.

“My mother is on oxygen,” Campbell said.

Power was eventually restored to her mother’s address and that of her immediate neighbors on Sunday evening, but much of the neighborhood remains without power.

“I did ask for other constituents,” Campbell said.

One week after Irma struck the South Florida area, almost 53,000 homes remain without power in Miami-Dade County, with an additional 13,400 in Broward County.

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Owner of nursing home where 8 died has history of fraud allegations

The man listed in state corporate records as the manager of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — where eight deaths have been reported after an air-conditioning outage caused by Hurricane Irma – is no stranger to controversy.

Dr. Jack Michel, a physician who serves as the president of Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, was involved a massive fraud scheme at Larkin more than a decade ago, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Michel and other Larkin owners paid $15.4 million in 2006 to settle health care fraud claims filed against them by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state of Florida.

At the time, Michel was investigated by a plethora of agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Inspector General, the Florida Medicaid Fraud Unit and the FBI. However, Michel was fined and not convicted of any charges

Michel was accused of receiving kickbacks for patient admissions in a Larkin fraud scheme and conspired to admit patients to the hospital for medically unnecessary treatment. The feds alleged those patients came from assisted living facilities owned by Michel and other physicians.

Despite the fraud case, Michel was able to keep his medical license and remain in charge at Larkin, which in recent years has been expanding its reach. The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills was incorporated in June 2015 and the hospital announced last year that it had purchased Palm Springs General Hospital in Hialeah for $40 million.

The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills was incorporated in June 2015 and the hospital announced last year that it had purchased Palm Springs General Hospital in Hialeah for $40 million. 

Attempts to contact Michel for comment have been unsuccessful so far.

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Owner of nursing home where 8 died has history of fraud allegations

The man listed in state corporate records as the manager of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — where eight deaths have been reported after an air-conditioning outage caused by Hurricane Irma – is no stranger to controversy.

Dr. Jack Michel, a physician who serves as the president of Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, was involved a massive fraud scheme at Larkin more than a decade ago, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Michel and other Larkin owners paid $15.4 million in 2006 to settle health care fraud claims filed against them by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state of Florida.

At the time, Michel was investigated by a plethora of agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Inspector General, the Florida Medicaid Fraud Unit and the FBI. However, Michel was fined and not convicted of any charges

Michel was accused of receiving kickbacks for patient admissions in a Larkin fraud scheme and conspired to admit patients to the hospital for medically unnecessary treatment. The feds alleged those patients came from assisted living facilities owned by Michel and other physicians.

Despite the fraud case, Michel was able to keep his medical license and remain in charge at Larkin, which in recent years has been expanding its reach. The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills was incorporated in June 2015 and the hospital announced last year that it had purchased Palm Springs General Hospital in Hialeah for $40 million.

The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills was incorporated in June 2015 and the hospital announced last year that it had purchased Palm Springs General Hospital in Hialeah for $40 million. 

Attempts to contact Michel for comment have been unsuccessful so far.

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Gov. Scott orders shutdown of Hollywood nursing home responsible for 8 deaths

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium for the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where eight people died after an air-conditioning issue that forced evacuations from the nursing home.

All patients have been removed from the rehabilitation center, and the moratorium immediately prevents the facility from admitting any patients until the order is lifted.

The shutdown is necessary to protect the lives and the safety of frail elders, according to a news release from the AHCA.

Earlier in the day, Scott made it clear that he is demanding answers on the facility. He previously ordered the AHCA and the Department of Children and Families to investigate the facility.

It was shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday when paramedics and fire-rescue crews were called to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

“The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has evacuated this morning due to a prolonged power failure to the transformer which powered the facility’s air conditioning system as a result of the hurricane,” nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said in a statement. 

Hollywood police Chief Tomas Sanchez confirmed that eight people had died and 115 patients were evacuated from the center.

“We’re conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths that occurred here,” Sanchez said.

Several residents from the center could be seen sitting on wheelchairs outside the nursing home, next to the hospital.

An adjacent building, Larkin Community Hospital, was also evacuated. Eighteen patients there were relocated as a result of the investigation.

The victims who died have been identified as 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.

The causes of death have yet to be determined. 

Carballo said 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. 

Local 10 News reporter Jenise Fernandez spoke to the man who has been trying to repair the AC. Airstron employee Dave Long said that a fuse needed to cool the AC unit popped out during Hurricane Irma and needs to be repaired. He said he’s been calling Florida Power & Light for days to get it fixed.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Long said. “We’ve been calling and calling. … It just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and I can’t do anything until we get that fuse popped back in.”

Long described the ordeal as “frustrating.”

He said it would only take about 30 minutes once the fuse is fixed for the AC to be restored.

“Well, I came here after the storm on Monday and we saw the fuse was out, but we called at that time and now it’s, what, Wednesday, and the fuse is still out and I can’t do anything,” Long said.

All the patients were taken to area hospitals, including Memorial Regional Hospital.

“We don’t have specific numbers on the conditions of each of the patients involved,” city spokeswoman Raelin Storey said.

Dr. Randy Katz, the medical director at Memorial Regional Hospital, said his staff “quickly identified some issues inside of the facility.”

“Most of the patients have been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues,” Katz said.

Katz said at least a dozen other patients are in emergency care. He said the death toll could rise.

Family members rushed to the hospitals after finding out where their loved ones were taken.

One woman who spoke to reporters said she had been calling FPL and the facility for days on behalf of her mother to find out when the AC would be restored. 

“I kept calling,” the woman said. “And I said, ‘This is life-threatening.'” 

The woman said helping restore nursing homes to their standard conditions should be a top priority after a hurricane.

Rob Gould, vice president and chief communications officer for FPL, said the utility company met with Broward County officials in March to identify “top-tier critical infrastructure” facilities in the event of a massive power outage. He said the nursing home was not identified as such.

“We do know that facilities such as Memorial Regional Hospital across the street, which was with power, is listed as a top-tier critical infrastructure facility,” Gould said.

Gould said parts of the facility were energized by FPL. He said the tragedy points to the need to have a plan in place when it comes to emergency preparation.

“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” Scott said in a statement earlier Wednesday. “Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable.”

Scott said if the investigation uncovers “that anyone wasn’t acting in the best interests of their patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Numerous assisted living facilities were evaluated throughout South Florida after the incident, including the Bayview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in North Miami Beach where 80 patients were evaluated.

The ALF also did not have working AC and the residents were all evacuated via buses and trolley. 

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.

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. 

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