Hearing begins for Hollywood nursing home at risk of losing license

HOLLYWOOD, FLA. (WSVN) - The hearing has begun for a Hollywood nursing home at risk of losing its license after 12 patients died when the facility lost power after Hurricane Irma.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is now fighting to keep its license as an administrative law judge hears arguments from both sides. The State Agency of Health Care Administration wants the facility’s license revoked and the business shut down.

Thirteen patients died after the facility lost power after Hurricane Irma. The patients were stuck in sweltering conditions for days.

The state alleges that the nursing home failed to recognize the potential health risk of the rising internal temperatures and humidity affecting the residence.

Lawyers for the facility counter said the center took reasonable and appropriate steps to care for the residents during the absence of power after Hurricane Irma, and there was no way to tell what was going to happen with the air conditioning.

Monday saw opening statements for the hearing.

“If you’re gonna take on the responsibility to care for these patients, you need to do it understanding what the conditions of those patients are and understanding the environment in which you have placed them,” said the state’s attorney Stephen Menton.

“The villains in this case are a little less easy to spot,” said attorney Geoffrey Smith, representing the nursing home. “They’re kind of lumped under this nameless, faceless ‘The Facility.’ ‘The Facility’ failed to do this. ‘The Facility’ failed to do that, but there’s no name of who actually did what, and how was it deficient as a provider when you look at what reasonable providers do.”

It was determined in court Monday that one of the patients who died had an internal temperature of almost 104 degrees.

“Like most situations, your honor, there are at least two sides to every story,” said Smith.

“How did we get here? How did this happen?” asked Menton.

“By all accounts, a good nursing home provider,” said Smith. “They treated their residents like family.”

“There will be no evidence presented in this proceeding of anyone intentionally causing harm or death,” said Smith.

Staff from Memorial Regional Hospital had entered the nursing home after hearing about the potential issues following the hurricane. Two of the staff members recalled that experience during the hearing.

“We went into the building, and I just remember an extraordinary amount of heat hitting my face when we walked in past the threshold,” said Judy Frum, Chief Nursing Officer for Memorial Healthcare System. “As we walked closer to the desk, it was somewhat of a frantic scene.”

Due to the heat inside the nursing home, staff from Memorial Regional Hospital decided to evacuate the building.

“I vividly remember watching them zip up body bags,” said Dr. Randy Katz from Memorial Healthcare System, “and then I looked and saw a couple of my physicians who were very busy taking care of patients, and my nursing director looked up to me and said, ‘It’s really bad.'”

The hearing is expected to last throughout the week.

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