Fla. nursing home where 6 died in heat had poor record with state regulators

Miami Herald

MIAMI — The Hollywood Hills nursing home where six elderly people died Wednesday morning is a facility with a history of poor inspections and is owned by a South Miami hospital with an troubled past of its own.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has a health inspection rating of “much below average” by the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, which evaluates all long-term care facilities in the state for the U.S. government. The facility’s “overall rating,” which includes staffing, fire safety and health inspections, was listed as “below average.”

The nursing home’s licensee is Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, LLC, which is owned by a doctor named Jack Michel. State health care records list Michel as an officer and board member of the nursing home with a controlling interest.

But the home also has a relationship with Larkin Community Hospital, which has a long history of running afoul of health care regulators. Michel is listed in state corporate records as Larkin’s president, as well. In 2006, the U.S. Justice Department fined Larkin and its owners $15.4 million in a settlement of a civil fraud complaint.

Six of the nursing home’s residents died Wednesday morning after they fell ill in a building that had been left without air conditioning after Irma blasted South Florida, according to authorities at the scene. The facility is across the street from Memorial Regional Hospital, which never reported losing power during Hurricane Irma.

Hollywood Fire Rescue evacuated residents from the rehab center on North 35th Avenue after some residents awoke sick. Like many places in South Florida, the nursing home has been without power since being battered by tropical storm winds and hurricane gusts on the edge of Hurricane Irma.

A kitchen worker, Jean Lindor, told the Miami Herald the center had power from a generator to cook — but no air conditioning.

A spokeswoman for Larkin Hospital, who identified herself only as Christina, would not discuss the relationship between Larkin and the rehab center, but said nursing home administrators would issue a statement later. The woman said she was speaking on behalf of Michel.

The Florida Health Care Association, a long-term care industry group, released a statement Wednesday morning framing the deaths within the context of Irma’s brutal blow to the state.

“Our centers’ first priority is always the safety and well-being of every resident in their care and they are doing everything in their power to meet their immediate and ongoing needs,” wrote the association’s executive director, Kristen Knapp.

“As with millions of other Floridians, our centers are coping with the loss of power and infrastructure in the communities that were most affected by the devastation. Approximately 150 facilities out of the nearly 700 facilities in the state do not currently have full power services restored.”

“The loss of these individuals is a profound tragedy within the larger tragedy of Hurricane Irma and we extend our deepest sympathies to the families of these residents,” Knapp said.

In July 2015, Larkin Community Hospital issued a press release announcing it had won a bankruptcy auction and was taking over operations of the 152-bed Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, as well as other properties. The reason for the auction: The previous owner was in prison for Medicare fraud.

Larkin and Michel bid $24.6 million for the properties, the press release said. “This acquisition represents another step in the evolution of our hospital into an integrated delivery system,” Michel, identified as Larkin’s president, said in the press release.

An AHCA inspection of the rehab center dated March 31 faulted the facility for several violations, including poor food and unsanitary conditions.