At least four lawsuits have been filed against a nursing home in Florida that was the site of eleven deaths in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The facility, known as the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida, lost power during Hurricane Irma, which subsequently knocked out the facility’s air conditioning. All victims of the tragedy are believed to have died from heat-related conditions or from existing conditions that were exacerbated by excessive heat.
The first lawsuit, filed by the family of 94-year-old Rosa Cabrera, is based in negligence and seeks unspecified damages. Cabrera, a diabetic with weight problems, had her left leg amputated last year and her right leg amputated in March of this year, just one month before she was placed in the nursing home. In their lawsuit, the Cabrera family said that, as a double amputee, she suffered injury, pain, and distress inflicted by the center’s staff, who should have known that she could not care for herself or escape the “horrific conditions” at the nursing home. Stuart Grossman, the Cabreras’s attorney, said that Cabrera was assured by the rehab center’s staff that she would be safe from the storm as Hurricane Irma approached Florida. Instead, the home placed her in unnecessary danger that could have cost her her life. He said that the center’s conduct far surpasses a failure to meet a standard of care because Cabrera was forced to endure unbearable heat when the staff did not immediately respond to the escalating medical emergency.
The nursing home, which has had its operating license suspended since the incident and is under criminal investigation by state and federal regulators, has defended its procedures before, during, and after the storm. In a timeline, the center said that two Florida Power and Light (FPL) transformers—one that powers the building’s life safety systems and the second the air-conditioning chiller—flickered and came back on on the afternoon of September 10th during the storm, but then the power to the AC chiller went down and did not come back online. Nursing home operators said they contacted FPL, state regulators, and even Governor Rick Scott’s cell phone, but received no assistance. They said the staff set up 10 spot coolers and fans on the first and second floors, and eventually obtained additional spot coolers from Memorial Regional Hospital, across the street.But the rehab center’s administrator also admitted in the timeline that they did not call 911 to deal with the medical emergency and failing patients until 1:30 a.m. on September 13th, three days after the air conditioner went down. Five patients had already suffered cardiac arrest or respiratory distress by 4:45 a.m. on that day.