Key evidence lost in Florida nursing home death case

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The Florida governor’s office received four voicemails from the nursing home where at least 11 people have died in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, according to reports. And they were deleted after being handed off to the appropriate agency. Now, Gov. Rick Scott (R) is facing criticism for the fact that the important recordings were eliminated.

The nursing home, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida, was evacuated after calls came in of deaths at the facility. More than 100 patients were evacuated; some in critical condition. The facility had lost power and air conditioning during the hurricane, leading to the deaths, which authorities say were heat-related.

Between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Wednesday, September 13, state officials say temperatures inside the nursing home were high, causing the patients to suffer different health issues. Some of the dead reportedly registered body temperatures as high as 109 degrees. (See video below.)

According to CBS4 Miami, the station requested the voicemails, because there was a discrepancy between what the nursing home staff were reporting and Gov. Scott’s statements.

Natasha Anderson, a vice president with The Rehabilitation Center, claims she called the governor’s cellphone four times during the 36 hours before the first patient died to say the nursing home needed “immediate assistance,” as they required restoration of power to their air conditioning system. Each time, voicemails were left.

Gov. Scott said no one from the nursing home suggested it was an emergency situation, which placed patients in danger.

According to CBS4,  the four voicemails would have been critical evidence in the ongoing investigation into the patient deaths.

In response to CBS4’s request for the voicemails, a spokeswoman replied via email: “The voicemails were not retained, because the information from each voicemail was collected by the Governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling.”

Gov. Scott’s spokesman said last week that every call the governor received from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health, and “quickly returned.”

The governor’s office reportedly stated that Florida’s Department of Health responded to the calls, and that the nursing home staff was instructed to call 911 for help if they had an emergency situation.

The Department of Health has said the nursing home is responsible for the deaths.

“Let’s be clear – this facility is located across the street from one of Florida’s largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities,” DOH spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said. “It is 100 percent the responsibility of health care professionals to preserve life by acting in the best interest of the health and well-being of their patients.”

CBS4 reports that the nursing home spoke to the emergency operations center in Tallahassee as well. They told the nursing home that their electricity repair order would be “escalated.”

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