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Summit Looks To Avoid Another Nursing Home Horror

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HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) -- "We are saddened and enraged. Never, ever, ever can we allow it to happen again," said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), speaking at a summit Thursday on the nursing home horror in Hollywood that followed Hurricane Irma.

With no air conditioning, patients baked in the Rehabilitation Center at the Hollywood Hills nursing home. No one called 911 until people started dying. Before it was over, 14 would experience a hellish death.

At Miami Dade College North Thursday, state and federal lawmakers and health experts talked about how to avoid a repeat of the tragedy. It was generally agreed there aren't enough folks looking out for those who need care.

"We need to make sure that we are adequately resourced to be able to respond to these events. I don't think the federal government is doing an adequate job of that," said U.S. Rep. Henry Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), who attended the session that was organized by Wilson.

The Hollywood Hills facility had been repeatedly cited for egregious patient care practices but it wasn't closed until people started dropping dead. Florida lawmakers took years to approve a nursing home oversight bill that ended up a toothless tiger, according to former State Senator Eleanor Sobel, who fought for greater regulation of health care facilities like nursing homes.

"It was very watered down. It increased the fines but, at the end of the day, there was less oversight," Sobel said of the state law.

The health care industry, critics contend, is loaded with lobbyists and loot that buy lots of influence.

"All these millions of dollars that you see people raising for their campaign re-elections, it comes from industries like this, who make our country a mess, who weaken protections for the sick," Rep. Wilson said.

The owner of Hollywood Hills, Jack Michel, also an owner of Larkin Hospital in South Miami, has a history of health care fraud charges that have been settled with fines. Michel and his associates have been accused of Medicare and Medicaid fraud by funneling patients to Larkin, some from other facilities that Michel owns, for treatment that was not needed.

Michel's Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is fighting revocation of its license, even as a criminal investigation of the death and dying there continues.

The consensus at the Miami Dade College summit was that facilities like nursing homes should be required to have emergency backup power.

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered it, a tall order that, so far, is far from being followed. Health industry interests have said they generally support the idea of emergency power for assisted living facilities, but have said there shouldn't be a rush to implement a system and that a thorough rule-making process should be followed.


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