HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Records show that several lawsuits had been filed against the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills prior to the deaths of eight residents who had been living with limited air conditioning following Hurricane Irma.
Airstron employee Dave Long told Local 10 News that a fuse needed to cool the A/C 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.
Meanwhile the nursing home has been using portable A/C units, but some said it was still extremely hot in the facility.
"It's very, very sad that it took eight deaths to bring some awareness to this problem, which existed for years," attorney Marcus Susen said.
Susen said the tragedy that occurred at the nursing home didn't surprise him.
"The facility failed to ensure that their residents were treated with dignity, and that was a finding by the Department of Health and Human Services," he said.
Susen filed a negligence and abuse case against the facility in 2016 for a former resident, Lorraine Luongo.
He said he wasn't at liberty to discuss the case, but the complaint alleges that then 86-year-old Luongo, who used a wheelchair and suffered from dementia, was escorted off the property by another resident while being left unattended.
She was found by police 2 miles away out of her wheelchair and "crawling in the dirt."
"I've been litigating nursing home neglect cases throughout the state of Florida for several years and I have seen nothing like the egregious acts that took place here," Susen said.
Another active civil lawsuit alleges that another resident suffered infections and sepsis in the facility as well as dehydration.
"All you have to do is look at the history of the violations," Susen said.
State health records show a history of numerous violations, including failing to treat residents with dignity, kitchen violations and failure to provide timely meals, as well as various unsanitary conditions.
But little was done by the state to punish the facility.
"I think they may have a little bit of blame here. The red flags were there," Susen said. "The government can't be there babysitting 24/7, but the red flags were there for all to see."
State Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Florida, said the state needs to toughen the laws for nursing homes.
"We've insulated these nursing homes through deregulation in this state, and that's how things like this can happen," he said.
A criminal investigation has been launched into deaths of 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.
Gov. Rick Scott directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium for the nursing home.
All patients who survived have been removed from the nursing home and taken to hospitals. The moratorium prevents the facility from admitting any patients until the order is lifted.
The governor also ordered the AHCA and the Department of Children and Families to investigate the facility.