Resident deaths due to 'widespread system failures,' Hollywood Hills tells Congress

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The House committee tasked with investigating the deaths of 14 nursing home residents following Hurricane Irma should “resist the urge to vilify or demonize” staff of the facility, an attorney representing the provider said in a recent letter.

Florida has made “no serious effort” to study nursing home death rates before, during and after the storm, attorney Geoffrey D. Smith noted, and a final death toll likely won't be available until January 2019.

Responding to a request for information from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, FL, Smith told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Friday that the facility wasn't the only one in the state left without power or a functioning air conditioning system in the days after Irma.

Some of these facilities lacked power longer than Hollywood Hills did but did not evacuate, Smith noted, making it possible that other residents may have died or been sent to the hospital due to hurricane-related conditions.

“Please note that this information is not offered to point fingers at any other facility attempting to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, but instead is offered to show that there were widespread system failures that occurred,” Smith said.

The letter also outlined state-level issues, such as a lack of communication or policy making power restoration at long-term care facilities a priority, as a factor in the chaos that followed the storm. Smith also slammed suggestions from Florida health officials and politicians that the facility should have evacuated to the hospital across the street as “simply wrong,” since nursing homes are not authorized to evacuate all of their residents to the hospital in the event of a power outage.

“While it is very easy to vilify and demonize a ‘facility' for failures during a natural disaster, it is incumbent on elected officials and policy makers to look carefully at all the factors, identify the system failures, as well as any individual failures, and to develop appropriate public policy,” Smith wrote.

A Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services official testified as part of the committee's investigation last month, calling Hollywood Hills' handling of Hurricane Irma and its aftermath “a complete management failure.”