Florida nursing home with 8 post-Irma deaths has checkered safety record

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Eight residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida, died Sept. 13, supposedly of heat-related causes. The facility had a history of problems with its generator and its owner was once implicated in a $15 million healthcare fraud case.

Police found patients in “varying degrees of medical distress” at the 152-bed nursing home on Wednesday morning, with three already deceased. Five more later died, with the initial assessment blaming the heat in the facility after a tree knocked over during Hurricane Irma fell onto a transformer which powered the facility’s air conditioning system. Portable units and fans were being used, but the city of Hollywood said the facility was still “excessively hot.”

The state of Florida responded by preventing the facility from admitting new patients and evacuating the rest of its residents.

“Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable. Every facility that is charged with caring for patients must take every action and precaution to keep their patients safe – especially patients that are in poor health,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.

The nursing home has twice been cited for violating federal standards on its backup power capabilities, according to STAT News. In February 2016, an inspection found the facility “failed to maintain the emergency generator to manufacture and code requirements,” and couldn’t prove the generator had been replaced or a new one was to be installed.

Generator problems had previously been reported in a December 2014 inspection, which found a remote alarm to alert staff if the generator failed wasn’t working.

The facility’s owners, Larkin Community Hospital and Jack Michel, MD, have a history of health care fraud charges, according to the Orlando Sentinel. In 2006, the hospital, Michel and three others paid $15.4 million to settle claims Michel received kickbacks in a scheme to send patients—including those in nursing homes he owned—to Larkin for unnecessary treatment.

Larkin bought The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in June 2015. At the time, Michel said he looked forward “to making the enhancements necessary to convert Hollywood Hills into a 5-star facility to serve the needs of our community.” CMS currently rates it as two-star facility.