Four former employees of the now-closed Florida long-term care facility where 12 residents died of environmental heat exposure in 2017 after a power outage related to Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning were charged Monday.
Former Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills Administrator Jorge Carballo and nurse Sergo Colin each face 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter/neglect of an elderly disabled adult, according to Broward County Jail records. Nurse Althia Kenesha Meggie was charged with two counts of aggravated manslaughter/neglect of an elderly disabled adult and two counts of tampering with or fabricating evidence.
All three turned themselves in at the jail on Monday and have court appearances scheduled for today. Nurse Tamika Miller was being held in a different jail on unspecified charges.
“The notion of charging caregivers, nurses, administrators … for care that they rendered during a natural disaster emergency … is beyond the pale,” attorney Jim Cobb told the Associated Press.
The resident deaths in 2017 prompted then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) to demand that all assisted living communities and nursing homes in the state obtain emergency power generators and enough fuel to enable them “to sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures.” After several legal challenges from provider groups concerned about operators being able to meet compliance deadlines, the governor ultimately signed a backup power bill into law in March 2018.
Scott, now a U.S. senator, issued a statement Monday calling the Hollywood Hills staff’s failure to call 911 during the power outage “inexplicable.”
“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.”
Cobb said that before the hurricane hit, Carballo and other administrators were told they could call the governor’s personal cellphone directly for help but that when they did so, their calls were not returned.
As of Monday, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration records indicated that 2,714 assisted living facilities had emergency power plans that were approved and implemented, 84 had been granted more time to implement their plans, and 264 did not have fully approved and implemented plans and either had not requested variances or had expired variances.