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Nursing Home Shut Down After 8 Elderly Patients Die

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HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) -- A nursing home in Hollywood Hills has been shut down temporarily after eight patients died after the facility lost power following Hurricane Irma.

A criminal investigation will reveal if the nursing home's staff did enough to protect those seniors after it lost power.

Hollywood Hills Rehab Center - Nursing Home Deaths - Hurricane Irma
Albertina Vega. (Source: Carmen Fernandez)

Their cause of death has yet to be determined. Governor Rick Scott said Florida Department of Children of Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration have begun an investigation.

Authorities identified the residents who died as Bobby Owens, 84; Manuel Mario Medieta, 96; Miguel Antonio Franco, 92; Estella Hendricks, 71; Gail Nova, 70; Carolyn Eatherly, 78; Betty Hibbard, 84; and Albertina Vega, 99. 

Police began evacuating more than 100 elderly and disabled patients of the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, at 1200 N 35th Street, shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday after the facility called to complain of "extreme temperature."

"There appear to be two facilities within this property, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and then there is the Larkin Community Hospital. There is a behavioral wing at this facility and we're working to evacuate those behavioral patients as well," said Raelin Storey, public affairs director for the city. "But those are not medically compromised individuals."

There were 18 patients in the behavioral wings.

First responders said when they arrived at the home, multiple people were in respiratory distress.

Jean Lindon, who works in the kitchen, said ever since Hurricane Irma the air conditioning wasn't working. He said the facility has a back up generator.

Another worker said he thought the air was working when he left yesterday but appeared to be off when he returned today.

Storey added, "Once we determined that we had multiple deaths at the facilities and that the facilities are extremely hot we made the decision to evacuate all of the patients from the facilities."

Of the eight who died, three of the nursing home residents died at the facility, one died on the way to Memorial Regional, which is right across the street, and two died at the hospital. Where the other two residents died is unclear at this time.

"This is not a Memorial Healthcare System facility, but we are helping assess the healthcare needs of the residents and delivering care as Memorial Regional Hospital is the closest hospital to the Larkin facility. Memorial has set up a patient information line for families of the patients who were taken to Memorial facilities for care. The number is 954-265-1074."

Ten of the residents were treated for injuries. The residents of the home were taken to various Memorial hospital throughout the county for care.

"At this time we are conducting a criminal investigation into the matter. The Attorney General's Office from the state is here to look into possible Medicare fraud, and also the agency for Occupational Health that governs these types of facilities," said Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.

Senator Bill Nelson also called for an investigation.

Governor Scott took to Twitter to send a harsh message about the investigation.

"I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place. 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. I have directed the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to immediately work with local law enforcement to conduct an investigation, and if they find that anyone wasn't acting in the best interests of their patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law," he said in a statement.

Storey said there are 42 critical care facilities, like nursing homes or assisted living homes, in the city and the police are checking each location for any problems.

The facility issued a response, saying, in part: "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.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, authorities said the facility had received 127 calls for the fire department's assistance in the past 12 months, which they called "excessive."

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