Medical examiner considers 12 nursing home deaths homicides

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills remains under investigation

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The Hollywood Police Department announced Wednesday they were investigating 12 homicides related to the lack of air conditioning at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after Hurricane Irma.

Authorities reported 14 patients died, but after close examination the Broward County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Craig Mallak, determined not all of them were caused by environmental heat exposure. 

The report listed the 12 victims as Carolyn Eatherly, Gail Nova, Estella Hendricks, Bobby Owens, Manuel Mario Mendieta, Albertina Vega, Betty Hibbard, Carlos Canal, Martha Murray, Dolores Biamonte, Miguel Antonio Franco and Cecilia Franco. 

Mallak excluded 94-year-old Alice Thomas and 95-year-old Francesca Andrade from the list of  homicide victims. Since their deaths Larkin, the owners of the nursing home face several wrongful death lawsuits in what Sen. Bill Nelson referred to as "an emerging scandal of gargantuan proportions." 

The nursing home issued a statement attributing the deaths to the aftermath of "a prolonged outage of our air conditioning system due to Hurricane Irma." The relatives of Miguel Antonio Franco, 92, and his wife Cecilia Franco, 90, claim their deaths could have been prevented if the nursing home had been prepared before the storm hit Sept. 10. 

Vega, 99, would have turned 100 in October. There were three other victims in their 90s: Mendieta, 96, a former Miami resident, Canal, 93, and Murray, 94.

Hibbard, 84, who had a career in real estate, was reportedly sitting in front of a blower when she said, "I can't breathe!" She told a friend she felt ignored. Nova, 71, lived at the nursing home for almost a decade, because her relatives considered having Memorial Regional Hospital across the street was an advantage. 

The hospital employees set off a red flag when they noticed a pattern. Some 145 patients were evacuated from the nursing home and an adjacent psychiatric facility Sept. 13.  

"I and another colleague who happened to be manning the command center decided we need to walk over to see if we can offer our assistance," said Judy Frum, chief nursing officer at Memorial Regional Hospital, during a news conference. 

Records show Hendricks, 71, died with a documented temperature of 108.5 degrees. 

Biamonte, 57, was from New York. Owens, 84, worked in janitorial services at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Eatherly, 78, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about a decade before her death. She was suffering with dementia and had attempted to escape the nursing home. 


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