Lawsuit filed seeking records involving deaths of 8 Hollywood nursing home residents

Patients died after being without adequate air conditioning for days after storm

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor , Neki Mohan - Anchor/Reporter

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - An emergency lawsuit was filed Friday morning, seeking "preservation and production of vital records, documents and surveillance" from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, officials with the law firm of Leighton Law announced in a news release.

Attorneys John Leighton and Max Panoff are representing the family of Albertina Vega, 99, who was among the eight people who died this week after being without adequate air conditioning for days following Hurricane Irma.

The attorneys are seeking an emergency order "protecting and producing the evidence in light of the potential for destruction and alteration of these records," the news release said.

The lawsuit claims Vega died after being neglected inside the extremely hot facility.

"Instead of caring for Mrs. Vega or transferring her to Memorial Hospital across the street, she was left to die," the news release said.

Vega was found dead just before 3 a.m. Wednesday.

"The day before, they had gotten a call that she was doing well," Leighton said. "(There) was no indication that there was an air conditioning problem. What makes this even more outrageous is that Ms. Vega's closest family member lived two doors down from the nursing home.

"Now everybody involved here is outraged at what happened, because right across the street is Memorial (Regional) Hospital. But for Ms. Vega, her family member who visited her all the time -- who was there almost every day -- lived two houses away from the nursing home, had air conditioning, had power, but nobody said anything." 

Numerous investigations, including a criminal investigation, have been launched in Vega's death and the death of seven others: Bobby Owens, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Gail Nova, 71; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; and Betty Hibbard, 84.

Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey said one patient died on Tuesday, and the body was taken away by a funeral home.

She said the rest of the eight victims died on Wednesday, and 145 patients were evacuated. Memorial Regional Hospital took in 141 of those patients.

Records show several lawsuits had been filed against the nursing home prior to the deaths.

Attorney Marcus Susen filed a negligence and abuse case against the facility in 2016 for a former resident, Lorraine Luongo.

He told Local 10 News reporter Bob Norman that 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," according to the complaint. 

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.

 

Copyright 2017 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.