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Nursing Home Tragedy


On Tuesday, September 12, 2017, a resident at the Rehabilitative Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County, Florida, was found dead. In the early morning hours of Wednesday, September 13, 2017, a 911 call went out from the Rehabilitative Center about a resident, who was then transferred to the Memorial Regional Hospital across the street. Soon, a second 911 call went out about another resident at the Rehabilitative Center who was also transferred; at this point the local Fire Chief was notified. A third 911 call went out, and a third resident was transferred to the hospital. After the hospital received the third resident, the Chief Nursing Officer from the hospital went to the nursing home to investigate. What she saw shocked and alarmed her: she saw other residents in distress and felt unbearable heat—heat that would be lethal for anyone, not just the elderly. The Chief Nursing Officer triggered the hospital’s mass-casualty alert. Other hospital staff ran over to the Rehabilitative Center, and went door-to-door looking for patients in distress. Three residents were found dead and forty were found in critical condition. Evacuations began immediately. Four residents died soon after being transferred to the hospital, and one more resident died early the next day, making the total number of deaths eight, although the hospital cautioned that the number could increase because of the extremely critical condition of so many of the residents who were transferred.

The immediate reason for this tragedy appears to have been suffocating heat in the Rehabilitative Center. The power to one of the air conditioning units was knocked out by Hurricane Irma and although Florida Power and Light was contacted, nursing homes were not designated as “highest priority” for restoration in recovery from hurricanes and other disasters, so the power was not restored immediately. But state and federal laws require nursing homes to keep temperatures between 71-81 degrees Fahrenheit. A criminal investigation of why the Center was allowed to get so hot, and why residents were not evacuated sooner, is ongoing.

As a precaution, officials checked on the power and conditions in other nursing home facilities in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. At Krystal Bay Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility, 79 residents were evacuated and transferred to other facilities. With roughly 683 nursing homes and 84,000 beds in the state of Florida, the issue of power outages and lethal heat was a real threat to a large population.


As noted above, the number of residents in nursing home facilities represents a large population. In Georgia, there are roughly 372 nursing homes with 26, 506 beds. Among people turning 65 today, 69% will need some sort of long-term care whether in the community or in a residential care facility. Although the above-described tragedy was triggered by Hurricane Irma, dangerous conditions exist in nursing homes across the country everyday that lead to serious injuries and even deaths. The most common of these are: (1) a failure by staff to monitor residents, either because of a lack of adequate staffing or due to neglect; (2) the existence of tripping hazards; and (3) inadequate lighting which leads to multiple types of injuries. In addition to these environmental hazards are: (1) inadequate or incorrect medical treatment; (2) ineffective rehabilitation programs; and (3) lack of proper nutrition and hydration, all of which can lead to injuries or worse.


Nursing facilities that have the most egregious safety records can become “special focus facilities.” This designation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services means that the facility must fix the lapses in care while under increased inspections or lose Medicare/Medicaid funding. Some examples of the types of lapses that place facilities on the special focus watch list are: (1) giving residents the wrong medications, (2) failing to protect them from violent or bullying residents; and (3) neglecting to inform families and doctors regarding injuries.

The problem with the special focus program is that out of 15,000 skilled nursing facilities nationwide, the budget at CMS only allows for 88 nursing facilities to receive the special focus designation. This inability to include all the facilities that may need the special focus designation (some have estimated the true number is 400+) leads to another even bigger problem: rampant recidivism. Facilities that get off the watch list very often slide back into bad, old habits. Instead of being put back on the watch list—since the number of facilities needing the designation is too high—they are issued fines. The facility then pays the fines as a cost of doing business instead of changing the way they do business.


If someone you love has suffered an injury or is not receiving the care they need and deserve at a nursing facility, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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