Former U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham says Gov. Rick Scott failed hundreds, perhaps thousands of elderly people by failing to respond to cries for help as Hurricane Irma battered the state in September.
Graham paid $1,200 to have the public records released earlier this week and on Friday pointed to an Associated Press report which provided background on how Scott’s administration chose to handle potential emergencies during the storm.
Irma knocked out power for over six million Floridians and ultimately caused the deaths of 14 senior citizens at a nursing home in Hollywood, where conditions became so sweltering that patients began to suffer health complications.
Before the storm, Scott gave out his personal cell phone number in an effort to be accessible to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He told administrators to pick up the phone and give him a call if they ran into any problems as the Category 4 hurricane barreled through the state in September.
Nursing homes called Scott 120 times, according to phone records released this week, with nearly all of the calls being sent to voicemail before eventually being returned.
Aides to the governor said they listened to the voicemails and gathered the appropriate information before calling the nursing homes and ALFS back. The voicemails were then erased.
One of the facilities calling Scott’s cell phone was the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 12 people died after the facility lost power and air conditioning and became overheated.
According to records, the nursing home attempted to contact Scott on his cell phone three times between Sept. 11 and Sept. 12 before finally evacuating on Sept. 13.
Staff at the governor’s office has repeatedly said they informed the home to call 911 if necessary, but the center never did.
Graham said the report indicated “complete incompetence and neglect” of the Scott administration, criticizing the governor’s handling of the tragedy.
"There is no question the Hollywood Hills nursing home should have evacuated their residents as soon as the temperatures began to rise — but there is also no doubt the Governor's Office or Rick Scott himself should have called 911 or ordered a wellness check as soon as concerns were raised,” she said Friday. “He promised to take action and failed to follow through. The buck stops at the governor's desk."
Scott’s office said the responsibility to reach out for help rested with the home, which should have notified authorities the second they noticed something was wrong.
“No amount of finger pointing by the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Facility … will hide the fact that this healthcare facility failed to do their basic duty to protect life,” Scott said in a prepared statement in September. “This facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision to not evacuate their patients to one of the largest hospitals in Florida, which is directly across the street.”
Graham, however, saw things differently, alleging the records have blown the lid on a coverup for Scott’s failure to act.
"We have had to fight tooth and nail for these public records and now we know why Rick Scott fought so hard to keep them secret,” she said. “They have exposed how the governor's office botched the response — but we still do not have the actual voicemails that were left and I will continue fighting for them until they are made public."
Twelve of the 14 deaths at the Hollywood nursing home have been ruled homicides.
“At no point in time did this facility report, that lives were in jeopardy or that conditions had become dangerous,” said Scott spokesperson Lauren Schenone. “State officials told this facility to dial 911 if they had any reason to believe their patients were in danger, something every healthcare professional knows to do. The Governor looks forward to the findings of this homicide investigation and continues to demand answers as to why this facility didn’t take the necessary steps to keep their patients safe.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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