Those in charge of the Hollywood nursing home where several residents died after Hurricane Irma struck have been served with plenty of lawsuits over the years.
“I’ve been suing them for 20 years,” said Bill Dean, an Aventura nursing home plaintiffs lawyer. “There hasn’t been improvement. There’s been constant decline.”
The tragedy at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which has resulted in 10 residents’ deaths so far, led the state Agency for Health Care Administration to suspend its license Wednesday.
The agency found the residents who died after the facility’s air conditioning went out had body temperatures of up to 109.9 degrees by the time they made it to the hospital across the street. Staff made late entries on patients’ charts, and in one case reported a resident’s temperature was taken at the facility when he had already been evacuated, according to the agency.
“This facility failed its residents multiple times throughout this horrifying ordeal,” AHCA Secretary Justin Senior said in a statement. “It is unfathomable that a medical professional would not know to call 911 immediately in an emergency situation.”
Dean said the situation is believable given what he’s seen in the past. The Ford, Dean & Rotundo managing partner has a pending case against the nursing home on behalf of Lillian Fuller, a resident who allegedly developed infections, sepsis and dehydration as a result of negligence at the facility. In another case, he secured a confidential settlement from the Hollywood Hills home on behalf of a patient who “suffered horrific stage 4 bedsores.”
Those lawsuits were both filed in the two years since Dr. Jack Michel took over the facility, buying it out of bankruptcy after the previous owners were convicted of Medicare fraud.
But Michel himself has also been subject to fraud claims. The Department of Justice accused him of participating in a kickback scheme involving his company Larkin Community Hospital. He and four others settled the civil claims for $15 million in 2006.
He also signed off on a 2001 settlement in an Americans with Disabilities Act case against Larkin. The company agreed to improve its signage, curbside accessibility, parking spaces, restrooms and other areas the lawsuit claimed were noncompliant with the law.
Larkin, an affiliate of the nursing home with a location next door, has been sued dozens of times in state and federal court over the years. Many of the cases were filed by prisoners representing themselves, usually facing swift dismissal for a legally insufficient complaint.
But others progressed further, such as the case of Robert Nelson, a resident of a Larkin assisted living facility who died after his family claimed staff negligently failed to prevent bedsores and dehydration. Larkin settled the case for an undisclosed amount in May.
Last year, Larkin settled another death case involving a woman who suffered complications related to her breast implants.
The nursing home’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, said in a statement last week that the facility “diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma.”
“We are devastated by these losses,” he said. “We are fully cooperating with all authorities and regulators to assess what went wrong and to ensure our other residents are cared for.”
Scores of new lawsuits are likely on the way from the families of the 150 residents of the home evacuated after the hurricane. Florida law firms that have already announced lawsuits include Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, Leighton Law, the Law Office of Jay Cohen and Haliczer, Pettis & Schwamm.
“Perhaps the worst part of this tragedy is that it was 100 percent avoidable,” Haliczer Pettis partner Eugene Pettis said.