The Hollywood nursing home where multiple elderly people died last week has filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court seeking to block Gov. Rick Scott from withholding Medicaid payments and placing an emergency moratorium preventing the facility from admitting any new patients.
A total of nine people died in the sweltering heat at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills last week when the nursing home’s air conditioning went out following Hurricane Irma.
The Agency for Health Care Administration swiftly responded to the incident, issuing an emergency moratorium over the entire facility, banning it from accepting new residents until the independent investigation was completed.
The suit requests an injunction against the AHCA’s orders and points fingers at the Scott administration for allegedly violating the facility’s due process rights by suspending admissions and cutting off Medicaid funding.
“With the stroke of a pen, AHCA (the Agency for Health Care Administration) has effectively shut down Hollywood Hills as a nursing home provider in Broward County,” the lawsuit read. “These illegal and improper administrative orders took effect immediately and without any opportunity for the facility to defend itself against unfounded allegations.”
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills also said it followed the appropriate emergency preparedness plans when the air conditioning went out.
The facility has pointed the blame at the governor, saying it tried to contact Scott multiple times on a special line given out to healthcare executives before Hurricane Irma.
While Gov. Scott’s office doesn’t deny being contacted by the nursing home, it has said staffers at the Rehabilitation did not indicate any patients were in danger at the time of the calls.
The governor’s office said the facility apparently was in no rush to call 911 to tell someone, anyone that patients were in danger.
“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 Tuesday. “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.
The governor called the situation “concerning” and released a 159-page report outlining a timeline of events leading up to the tragedy.
Beginning Sept. 5, the report details how every facility was directed to begin updating health regulators on preparation efforts for Irma.
On Sept. 8, administrators from the Hollywood nursing home participated in a conference call with hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills participated in this call and did not report any issues,” the report read.
By 3:00 p.m. Sunday, the Rehabilitation Center lost power but failed to report the issue to the state.
On Sunday, September 10, 2017 at 6:51 PM, the nursing home reported through the FL Health STAT Database that they were closed but that everything was operational, including heating and cooling.
The timeline of the events said the nursing home did not notify the state of any heating and cooling issues until the early evening Monday, Sept. 11.
The line the home called, however, was merely an “information” line designed to inform Floridians of road closures, open shelters and re-entry information.
“This line is an information line for Floridians and is not meant to replace 911,” the report read.
By Tuesday, an aide for Governor Scott received two voicemails left on the Governor’s personal cell phone from Natasha Anderson, CEO of Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services and Jorge Carballo, Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills administrator.
Later that day, Broward County submitted a report to the Division of Emergency Management, noting the situation at the Hollywood facility.
“Included in [the county’s] report was a note that the [home] is running on generator power without air conditioning, which is adversely affecting patients,” the report said. Florida Power & Light had been asked to “ensure priority status” for the the Rehabilitation Center.
Later that afternoon, Carballo and an AHCA consultant spoke about the facility’s lack of air conditioning, but Carballo did not indicate any of the patients were in danger.
By Wednesday, three people were found dead at the home. Six more died within the next week.
“The more we learn about this, the more concerning this tragedy is,” the governor said. “Through the investigation, we need to understand why the facility made the decision to put patients in danger, whether they were adequately staffed, where they placed cooling devices and how often they checked in on their patients.”
The situation has prompted Scott and state legislators to push all ALFs to have working generators and adequate fuel supplies.
The investigation is ongoing.