3 employees arrested in Florida nursing home deaths after Hurricane Irma

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills lost power when its electric transformer that powered its air conditioning system was damaged.
Image: Rehabilitation Center
Police surround the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, Fla., on Sept. 13, 2017.John McCall / South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

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By Minyvonne Burke

Police on Monday arrested three employees of a Florida nursing home where 12 residents died due to heat in 2017 after the building lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma.

The three employees, including two nurses, turned themselves in after arrest warrants were issued over the weekend. Four people were issued warrants, defense attorneys David Frankel and Lawrence Hashish told NBC News.

The lawyers say they expect their clients to face charges of manslaughter. The lawyers also said do not know if the third nurse facing charges had turned herself in.

A total of 14 residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died when the electric transformer that powered its air conditioning system was damaged Sept. 10, 2017, as the hurricane swept through the area.

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The Broward County Medical Examiner's Office later ruled that 12 of the deaths were homicides linked to environmental heat exposure.

The first deaths were reported Sept. 13, three days after Irma. Others died in the following days and weeks. Some had body temperatures as high as 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

The dead ranged in age from 57 to 99.

The center's license was suspended and it closed days after the storm. In October 2017, more than 240 workers, including doctors and nurses, were let go.

Its license was revoked in January after the state's Agency for Health Care Administration issued an order, saying an administrative law judge concluded the center had "created an unsafe environment" for its residents, NBC Miami reported.

Investigators said the nursing home did not evacuate patients even as temperatures climbed and a fully functioning hospital was across the street, according to the outlet.

Frankel said the charges don't have merit and insists his clients tried to save the patients, going so far as to call the governor of Florida directly.

"The facility administrator and the nurses ... were calling the governor himself, who was posting his cell phone number on television saying for people to call if there was an emergency," Frankel said. "They were calling from day one looking for the air conditioning to be rehooked up, and during that time, they continued to tend to the patients."

Associated Press and Ben Kesslen contributed.