Hearing to determine whether nursing home will lose license after deaths

12 nursing home deaths after Hurricane Irma ruled homicides

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The first day of a state hearing was held Monday concerning a post-Hurricane Irma nursing home tragedy in which 12 people died after the air conditioning went out. 

The hearing is expected to continue at least throughout the week and the judge will ultimately decide whether or not the nursing home will be shut down.

The hearing comes after the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was evacuated in the days following Hurricane Irma.

A total of 12 residents there eventually died from complications due to extreme heat in the building after the facility lost power during the storm.

Three patients were found dead in their beds and others were hospitalized before the entire facility was evacuated.

On Monday, attorneys representing the American Health Care Association and the nursing home gave their opening statements.

The state revealed patients' body temperatures were up to 107.5 degrees. Fire rescue personnel couldn't get a reading on one patient, and said the thermometer only read, "Hi" meaning her temp was above 108 degrees.

The state will try to prove negligence and convince the judge that the facility should lose its license.

Attorneys representing the center told the judge that staff went above and beyond, doing all they could to prepare for the loss of power and air conditioning during the storm.

They said the center got fans and spot coolers, and that employees made dozens of calls for help when the air conditioning went out.

"There were a total of 14 calls and contacts with FPL," one attorney said. "They contacted the governor's cellphone when FPL didn't come. They contacted the governor's cellphone not once or twice, but they contacted the governor's cellphone five times."

The chief nursing officer from Memorial Regional Hospital was the first witness to testify Monday.

The state said she and another nurse walked over to see what was going on after the first few patients were brought to the hospital. 

Judy Frum told the judge that when they got off the elevator on the second floor, it felt like opening your car on a hot summer day and getting a blast of heat.

"We went into the building and I just remember an extraordinary amount of heat hitting my face when we walked in past the threshold," Frum said. 

The prosecutor said 11 of the 12 patients who died were on the second floor of the building. 

Frum said the patients were deteriorating quickly before the mass evacuation of the facility was ordered.

"I was extremely worried," she said. "It just didn't make sene to me that three patients were coming in with very high temperatures from a nursing home and one had expired. It was a red flag for me."

Throughout the week, the judge will hear witness testimony from people like them who were at the scene and handling the residents, including firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses and the medical examiner.

The medical examiner has ruled all 12 deaths as homicides.

The Hollywood Police Department is still conducting a criminal investigation.

About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.