After tragic deaths, memorial grows outside of nursing home in Hollywood
Families of eight dead at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills want justice
BROWARD, Fla. – After Hurricane Irma, the aftermath of the storm continued to hurt the most vulnerable in South Florida. Officials said 39 nursing homes didn't have power four days after the storm.
In Broward County, there was a memorial growing in front of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, 1200 N 35 Ave., on Thursday night.
The tragedy started after a fallen tree damaged a transformer used to power the air conditioner at the nursing home Sunday. The facility didn't have emergency air conditioning. They alerted Broward County officials Tuesday, but didn't report having any medical needs.
The home's staff found Albertina Vega, 99, dead about 2:55 a.m., Wednesday, but this didn't prompt the nursing home administrators to evacuate the facility.
They also didn't inform the Florida Department of Health that their residents in the 152-bed nursing home were at risk although several of them suffered respiratory or cardiac distress.
The nursing home is in the same building as the Larkin Behavioral Health Services psychiatric hospital and is steps away from Memorial Regional Hospital. When three patients were in the emergency room, it set off a red flag.
"We walked over to see if we could offer assistance," said Judy Frum, the hospital's chief nursing officer.
But by the time the nurses at Memorial Regional Hospital jumped into action, it was too late. Seven more of the nursing home's residents died. They were ages 70 to 92.
- Carolyn Eatherly, 78, was pronounced dead at hospital at 5 a.m.
- Manuel Mario Mendieta, 96, died inside the nursing home. Fire Rescue pronounced him dead at 5:46 a.m.
- Gail Nova, 70, was pronounced dead at hospital at 6:49 a.m.
- Bobby Owens, 84, died in the nursing home. Fire Rescue pronounced him dead at 6:57 a.m.
- Miguel Antonio Franco, 92, died in the nursing home. Fire Rescue pronounced him dead at 6:59 a.m.
- Estella Hendricks, 71, was pronounced dead at the hospital at 7:53 a.m.
- Betty Hibbard, 84, was pronounced dead at the hospital at 3:09 p.m.
Detectives with the Hollywood Police Department were investigating. The families of the eight dead want justice.
Attorney Marcos Susen said the air conditioning problem at the facility wasn't new. He filed a lawsuit in behalf of Lorraine Luongo, a former resident, accusing The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills of negligence and abuse last year.
"It's very, very sad that it took eight deaths to some awareness to this problem, which existed for years," Susen said.
Sen. Bill Nelson was among the outraged about the higher than average deficiencies, below average ratings and inadequate emergency preparedness plans at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.
He asked federal officials Thursday to "hold those responsible for their deaths ... accountable and ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent a similiar tragedy from happening in the future."
Local 10 News' Andrea Torres contributed to this report.
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