With an ongoing criminal investigation and at least 2 wrongful death lawsuits underway against Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, information is beginning to come to light that shows the nursing home and its owner purposely hid a power outage that left residents without air conditioning, causing 8 deaths and leaving many others hospitalized for respiratory distress and dehydration. As news broke of the tragedy on Wednesday, Levin and Perconti founding partner Steven Levin told HLN’s Carol Costello that a Florida nursing home who knew to expect high temperatures at this time of year and left their residents “vulnerable to something as simple as a power failure or an air conditioning breakdown is inexplicable. I can’t imagine what defense or excuse they could offer for a tragedy of this proportion.”
No Backup Plan
Initial reports stated that 5 residents were found dead, but as the day progressed, 8 residents were declared dead and nearly 150 were evacuated, with at least 12 in critical condition at Hollywood, Florida-area hospitals. The story became even more unbelievable when reporters quickly pointed out that less than 50 feet away was unaffiliated Regional Memorial Hospital. As the first residents began arriving there, the hospital’s staff quickly realized what had happened and volunteered to take part in caring for and transferring patients from the facility. Hollywood police and Florida Governor Rick Scott are demanding answers. According to a statement by Governor Scott’s office, “At no time did the facility report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk. In fact, on Monday, September 11, Department of Health staff advised this facility to call 911 if they had any reason to believe that their patients were not safe.” The first indication of distress didn’t come until an anonymous 911 call was made around 3 a.m. on Wednesday, September 13, two days after the Florida Department of Health was told nothing was wrong.
On Friday, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills attempted to blame Florida Power and Light for the continued outage, saying they notified them immediately that they had lost power on Sunday, and had contacted them in the days following when they didn’t show up. They said they also notified state authorities and asked them to put pressure on FP&L to come fix the outage. While notifying the power company and the state were proper steps to take, the facility failed to mention that patients were suffering and did not seem to have a backup plan in the event of a power outage. In fact, one lawsuit accuses the facility of using only 8 battery operated air conditioning devices for 81,000 square feet.
Many have asked why the facility wouldn’t have called 911 sooner. The answer comes down to greed. By transferring patients to hospitals and other facilities, Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills would be losing out on money.
A History of Criminal Activity and Poor Care
Dr. Jack Michel, the owner of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, settled a Department of Justice health care fraud case against him in 2006. According to reports, he and several others were convicted of sending patients from Larkin Community Hospital (which he owns) to other Florida-area hospitals as part of a kickback scheme. Some of the patients were from assisted-living facilities that he owned and all of the treatments for which patients were transferred were considered unnecessary. He paid millions in restitution to the government. Larkin Community Hospital and Dr. Michel bought the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills just two years ago.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the facility has an overall rating of 2/5 stars, or ‘below average.’ The Miami Herald reports that during a February inspection, state regulators cited the facility on a number of violations, including a high medication error rate, failure to serve meals in a timely fashion, leaving a resident in a dark room staring at a tv for hours, poor hygiene for another resident, and cleanliness violations within the facility’s kitchen and laundry room.
Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect: A Growing Epidemic
Boca Raton nursing home abuse and neglect attorney Michael Brevda is representing one of the deceased residents and says “This is a particularly horrific story, but it only captures media attention because it is tied to Hurricane Irma. Tragically, I see incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect resulting in wrongful death almost daily. We need to shed more light on this growing epidemic in our country.” In a world where decency seems harder and harder to come by, it may not be a surprise that Michael Brevda’s comments are the sad truth for thousands of families each year whose lives have been torn apart by the abuse and neglect their loved ones have suffered.
Chicago, Illinois-based Levin and Perconti is widely considered one of the first firms in the country to handle nursing home abuse and neglect cases and has spent over 25 years vigorously fighting for the rights of our most vulnerable citizens. Levin and Perconti Founding Partner Steven Levin is an expert in the elder law industry and has spoken to fellow attorneys, the elderly and their families across the country about nursing home abuse and neglect.
In a recent Department of Health and Human Services report, Illinois was found to have the highest rate of unreported suspected nursing home abuse and neglect. Harm done to the elderly is more common than most think and these tragedies deserve more attention. Our loved ones deserve better.
If you suspect a loved one has faced abuse or neglect within a nursing home or assisted-living facility, please contact us for help. Consultations are always free and there is no fee unless we collect money for you.