The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is launching an investigation into the 14 deaths which occurred at a Hollywood nursing home last month after the facility lost power following Hurricane Irma.
The nursing home lost power following Irma's landfall in September and quickly became the subject of controversy with finger-pointing and blame placed on Gov. Rick Scott, who nursing home officials allege knew the home was without power and failed to intervene.
Scott said the home did not try to contact 911 to indicate the presence of an emergency at the nursing home, which became sweltering without adequate air conditioning, leading to the deaths.
The committee made the announcement Wednesday, weeks after Florida's own U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat on the committee, pushed committee leaders to take a closer look into the tragedy and how the nursing home became certified by Florida.
"It is my understanding that it is the state’s responsibility to certify a nursing home’s compliance with all federal emergency preparedness regulations in order to receive federal payments under the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” Nelson wrote late last month to U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, and John Wyden, D-OR.
Florida's other senator, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, also called for a federal investigation into the deaths at the nursing home last week.
"This has shocked the state of Florida, and rightfully raised questions about the oversight of nursing homes, particularly the enforcement of existing emergency preparedness requirements,” Rubio wrote.
Hatch and Wyden serve as chair and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid.
Hatch and Wyden sent letters to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Wednesday and to the state of Florida to seek information on how it is ramping up emergency preparedness efforts for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Federal law requires states to shoulder the responsibility of making sure facilities keep up with federal requirements and regulations for nursing homes in case of natural disasters like hurricanes, flooding and wildfires.
The tragedy at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills occurred when the facility's power went out and the home was unable to sustain cool temperatures inside, despite being certified by the state.
The investigation comes on the heels of political controversy surrounding the deaths, which nursing home officials have blamed on Gov. Rick Scott.
Staffers said they tried to contact the governor "multiple times" after the home lost power, while Scott maintains the home didn't do its due diligence by failing to call 911 when conditions became dangerous and patients fell ill.
In response to the deaths at the Hollywood home, Scott issued an emergency order requiring all nursing homes and ALFs to have working generators by Nov. 15.
Meanwhile, Rubio has called for an investigation not only into the Hollywood nursing home, but into others in Florida and in Puerto Rico, which was hit by two hurricanes -- Irma and Maria -- last month.
“I implore you to investigate the failures that occurred at this nursing home and others throughout the country, particularly in Florida and Puerto Rico, to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future,” he wrote. “Additionally, I respectfully request that you consider examining other ways in which Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were impacted by these storms and how better planning and coordination between the federal, state, and local government could mitigate harm caused by hurricanes.”