Florida nursing home employees surrender in patient deaths

National News

FILE – A Sept. 13, 2017 file photo shows a police staging area at the south entrance of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills where residents died, in Hollywood, Fla. Defense attorneys said Sunday, August 25, 2019 that arrests are expected shortly in the case of the Florida nursing home where 12 elderly patients died after the complex lost power and was engulfed by sweltering heat during the powerful 2017 Hurricane Irma.(Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald via AP, File)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Three employees of a Florida nursing home where 12 people died in sweltering heat after a hurricane cut power turned themselves in on Monday to face charges, their attorneys said.

Three nurses and an administrator employed by the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills at the time of the 2017 deaths were to be charged, and three of the four had surrendered, attorneys Jim Cobb and Lawrence Hashish told The Associated Press. They weren’t sure if the third nurse, whom neither of them represent, had turned herself in.

Cobb and Hashish also said they were uncertain what charge their clients faced but expected it to be manslaughter. Hollywood Police, who are responsible for issuing the arrest warrants, did not respond to multiple emails and voice messages.

Patients began dying days after Hurricane Irma swept through in September 2017, knocking out power at the home. Investigators said the center did not evacuate patients as temperatures inside began rising, even though a fully functional hospital was across the street. The home’s license was suspended days after the storm and it was later closed.

Cobb’s client, former home administrator Jorge Caballo, said he and other administrators were repeatedly told before the storm that they could call Gov. Rick Scott’s personal cell phone directly for help. Cobb said they called five times, but never heard back from Scott.

Cobb said the administrators “sat there languishing waiting for the Calvary to come. … They never, ever came.”

Hashish remarked that “the real crime is that the state is looking to blame selfless caregivers and the evidence will show that no crime was committed.”

Now-U.S. Senator Scott said in a statement that the nursing home should have called 911.

“Nothing can hide the fact that this healthcare facility failed to do their basic duty to protect life,” he said. “We took steps in Florida to protect our most vulnerable, including requiring all nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have emergency backup power, to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.”

Paramedic Craig Wohlitka and other paramedics from Hollywood Fire-Rescue testified last year that he was haunted by the deaths of patients there. Fire Lt. Amy Parrinello said one of the female patients had a temperature of 107.5 degrees (42 Celsius), the highest she had ever seen in her 12-year career. Later that morning, she said, another patient topped that with a temperature so high it couldn’t be measured.

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This story has been edited to clarify that the employees have not yet been charged.

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