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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5 dead after AC issue that forced evacuation of Hollywood nursing home

Five people are dead after an air-conditioning issue that forced the evacuation of a Hollywood nursing home, Broward County’s mayor said.

Paramedics and fire-rescue crews were called to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills shortly after 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Hollywood police spokeswoman Miranda Grossman only confirmed that one person has died, but Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said during a morning news conference that two people died at the facility and three more died at nearby Memorial Regional Hospital.

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 being evacuated.

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.”

Many of the patients were placed on stretchers and taken to Memorial Regional Hospital.

Local 10 News has contacted FPL for comment.

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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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Emergency rooms fill up in Hurricane Irma’s aftermath

There was not an empty seat at the emergency room inside Memorial Regional Hospital on Tuesday afternoon.

This is due to the number of people seeking medical services after Hurricane Irma. The hospital staff is mainly seeing post-storm injuries as people take down shutters.

And there are people being seen due to car crashes as many drivers are not treating the intersections without power as four-way stops.

The hospital has set up a triage area at the entrance of the emergency room.

Those without any major injuries are being sent to an urgent care center nearby.

“We’re seeing a tremendous number of people coming through the front door,” Dr. Randy Katz, director of emergency services, said. “It’s mostly the most prone elderly patients who are prone to heat exhaustion, they need oxygen, dialysis patients in particular have been a big issue.”

Katz said some nursing homes are without power so they’ve seen patients with high temperatures come through their building.

“Our biggest issue is the wellbeing of the staff,” Katz said. “Most of our staff have homes and things at home they need to take care of so they’re trying to take care of patients and at the same time try to take care of their families and their houses.”

The hospital has a website set up, memorialdocnow.com, and a doctor will address people online and are asking people to only come in if it is a true emergency. 

 

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Emergency rooms fill up in Hurricane Irma’s aftermath

There was not an empty seat at the emergency room inside Memorial Regional Hospital on Tuesday afternoon.

This is due to the number of people seeking medical services after Hurricane Irma. 

The hospital has set up a triage area at the entrance of the emergency room.

Those without any major injuries are being sent to an urgent care center nearby.

“We’re seeing a tremendous number of people coming through the front door,” Dr. Randy Katz, director of emergency services, said. “It’s mostly the most prone elderly patients who are prone to heat exhaustion, they need oxygen, dialysis patients in particular have been a big issue.”

Katz said some nursing homes are without power so they’ve seen patients with high temperatures come through their building.

“Our biggest issue is the wellbeing of the staff,” Katz said. “Most of our staff have homes and things at home they need to take care of so they’re trying to take care of patients and at the same time try to take care of their families and their houses.”

The hospital has a website set up, memorialdocnow.com, and a doctor will address people online and are asking people to only come in if it is a true emergency. 

 

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Mandatory boil water alert issued in Hollywood, city’s water service customers

A mandatory boil water alert has been issued for all residents of Hollywood and some of its customers who live outside the city’s limits.

The alert is effective immediately.

Areas of Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Dania Beach that get their water from Hollywood are affected by the alert. 

In Hollywood, the city’s water treatment plant experienced a significant drop in pressure, below 20 pounds per square inch, which is an indication of a significant water main break, a media release said.

The city is now advising all property owners to boil their water for drinking purposes until further notice.

“Residents should not use the water without boiling it first, as boiling kills bacteria and other organisms in the water,” a media release said.

The city recommends that residents bring all water to a boil and let it continue boiling for one minute before using it. It’s also recommended to disinfectant water by adding eight drops of plain unscented bleach per gallon of water and let it stand for 30 minutes before drinking it. 

If the water remains cloudy after 30 minutes, repeat the procedure. 

For the time being only boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation.

Hollywood and Broward County will advise when the order has been lifted.
 

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