Hurricane Irma stunned southern Florida in September when it churned through the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to homeowners either evacuating or working to desperately save their homes and businesses, nursing home facilities also faced tough choices. Unfortunately, the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida now finds itself potentially facing criminal charges for its treatment of patients during the storm.
Hurricane Irma hit Broward County on September 10, and a tree quickly fell and took out the transformer that powered the air conditioning in the Rehabilitation Center. It remained with power otherwise and reported the air conditioning loss to Florida Power & Light. The repair was promised for the next few days, but never occurred. In those two days, administrators from the nursing home contacted the state government regarding the lack of air conditioning, but never expressed any anger related to the situation.
According to officials, the home even borrowed a portable AC unit from the hospital across the street and checked on patients to ensure nobody was suffering from heat stroke. The home claims that inside air temperatures never exceeded 80 degrees. However, on September 13, residents began passing away. Three calls were made to 9-1-1 before 6 AM, and responding emergency personnel reported that the facility was extremely hot upon arrival. Though an official temperature reading has been released by police as part of their investigation, the state reported that four of the deceased had body temperatures of 107 to 109 degrees. A total of ten patients died as a result of the situation.
Now, the question remains: Is this a criminal situation? Florida Governor Rick Scott and relatives of patients at the nursing home are calling for criminal charges, but prosecution will depend on whether staff members were “culpably negligent,” an action defined by Florida law as “consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the defendant must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”
The fact that the home claims it used fans, ice, coolers, and a portable AC unit to keep residents comfortable may be enough to ward off criminal charges. Only time will tell as the police and state attorneys’ investigations continue.