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'Shame On You': Nursing Home Patient's Family Has Message After 8 Died

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HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) - The daughter of one of the patients taken out of a nursing home where eight residents died after the facility lost their air conditioning has a message for them - 'shame on you.'

"I am extremely upset…You can spit on the hospital from this facility. I hope the truth comes out," said Vendetta Craig who had left her 87-year-old mother Edna Jefferson in the care of  the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills which is located across from Memorial Regional Hospital.

Craig said the staff reassured her that her mother would be safe during Hurricane Irma since it was a hurricane shelter. That was not the case when she got a call from her mother's nurse saying she couldn't enter the building.

It turned out the center let more than 145 elderly and disabled patients swelter in 90 degree heat since they had lost power. Eight residents of the home ended up losing their lives.

"There were patients that were critically ill. There were patients that were not living any longer," said Dr. Randy Katz, referring to when he walked into the home to help residents.

Luckily, Craig's mom survived and was reunited with her daughter.

"She gave me life and seeing her eyes gave me life yesterday," said Craig who added her mother could not speak due to her condition. "It's going to take a while but we're going to be okay."

The nursing home said they informed FPL and county officials on Tuesday that they did not have electricity. It did, however, have a back up generator.

"The initial investigation has determined the facility had some power. However, the building's air conditioning system was not fully functional," said Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey.

The state has shutdown the center and now  Senator Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott have called for a full investigation.

Scott said he had directed the state Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to work with law-enforcement officials to determine if the nursing home's staff did enough to protect those seniors after it lost power.

Late Thursday evening, Gov. Scott directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to terminate the facility as a Medicaid provider.

Nelson called for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to get involved.

"I think it is an emerging scandal of gargantuan proportions," he said.

In a statement, they said, "staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility. Our staff continually checked on our residents' well-being -- our most important concern -- to ensure they were hydrated and as comfortable as possible."

Hollywood police Chief Tomas Sanchez said he believe the deaths were heat related.

"The were utilizing portable A/C units which were insufficient to reduce the excessive of heat in the facility," he said.

Many are asking why the patients were not transferred to Memorial Regional Hospital, which is right across the street, that had working power and air conditioning.

At 3 a.m. Wednesday, someone at the nursing home called 911 to report a cardiac arrest. An hour later a second 911 call was made to report that a patient was having trouble breathing. A fire official then reported concerns about the facility.

When rescuers responded to a third call they found three dead bodies on the second floor that was described as "extremely hot."

An evacuation order began around 6:15 a.m. It took three hours to evacuate the facility. First responders said when they arrived at the home, multiple people were in respiratory distress.

"When I walked in through the door, the staff was doing everything humanly possible to move staff to a cooler area," said  Judy Frum, the chief  nursing officer at the hospital.

Most nursing home residents, 119, were processed by Memorial Regional Hospital. Thirty of those residents were admitted to various Memorial Health Care facilities. The remaining residents were taken to Cleveland Clinic, Aventura Hospital and Broward Health. All were treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and other heat related issues.

On Wednesday, warrants were served at the nursing home.

"We need to find out who did what and who didn't do what, what was going on here, what efforts were made," said Sanchez. "If we find anybody did any criminal wrongdoing, we're gonna hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

Craig echoed those sentiments, "For those who take advantage of the weak, they need to have some sympathy and be prosecuted."

Storey said one of the deaths occurred Tuesday evening and the body was taken away by a funeral home.

The nursing home has a poor record with state regulators and has a rating of 'much below average' with a one out of five rating on a federal nursing home ranking website.

"We're so saddened by this occurrence. To have eight people lose their life due to the apparent negligence of the staff of a nursing home facility that couldn't raise the red flag sooner. It wasn't until paramedics arrived and the calls came in that it was demanded that an inspection of the entire facility take place and dead bodies were discovered," said Hollywood Mayor Joseph Levy.

Police went door to door on Wednesday inspecting all of Hollywood's 42 nursing homes. One was found without power and its residents were evacuated to Memorial Regional Hospital.

One hundred and fifty of Florida's 700 nursing homes currently are without power.

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