Emergency calls from Florida nursing home detail chaos before deaths

Caitlin Ostroff, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

"She's not breathing." "Her fingers started to change color." "They're doing CPR now."

At the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the first of 14 lives were beginning to flicker out. After days without air conditioning -- because Hurricane Irma had knocked out the power to the home -- the fragile elders were starting to show increasing stress in the brutal, stifling heat.

But callers from the nursing home to 911 are calm and measured. Voices aren't raised. No one is implored to hurry and help.

The collection of 911 calls may shed light on how so many residents could die in such a short time in a nursing home whose prime attraction was that it was next door to one of Florida's largest hospitals, Memorial Regional.

But there is a key omission in the records. There is no indication of when the calls were received.

The Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel obtained recordings of the 911 calls Monday as a result of a public records lawsuit against the city of Hollywood. The city had refused to release the audio of the calls made from the rehabilitation center on Sept. 13, citing an open investigation.

Previously released records indicate that 911 calls were received at 3 and 4 a.m.

In the first call, a nurse tells the 911 operator that an 81-year-old woman is having respiratory issues and that the side door isn't working. In the second call, 911 is told that a 93-year-old man is having difficulty breathing and that he's not completely alert.

More calls would follow, citing cardiac arrest and respiratory issues.

In one exchange, a woman fumbles with the nursing home computer for minutes as she tries to look up the age of a resident whose health emergency prompted the 911 call.

Some of the calls are riddled with static.

As the list of calls grows, the nursing home staffers retain their calm, each answering the same list of questions: Where is the patient? Are they breathing? Are they alert? Is this unexpected?

Not once did a nurse or staff member convey that an evacuation might be necessary or that a patient's life was at risk.

In a call concerning an 84-year-old woman, an operator tells a nurse to tell him "exactly what happened."

"So I saw her slouch over. I realize that she's not breathing, so I check her. She's just barely breathing," the woman says. She adds: "Her fingers started to change color, slightly blue."

Someone then shouts in the background that her blood pressure is 111 over 68.

In a ninth and final call, which appears to have been made to fire-rescue by the Broward Emergency Operations Center, a staff member tells the operator of receiving a call to the EOC about multiple patients and possible deaths.

"We're not 100 percent positive of the situation, but that's what we've been informed," he said. "The call that came in was a little daunting."

The Broward medical examiner has yet to state a cause of death for any of the 14 victims.

More than 140 residents were evacuated to Memorial Regional, just steps away from the nursing home, and other nearby hospitals.

The nursing home and rehabilitation center is now a homicide investigation crime scene after the state revoked the facility's license on Sept. 20. The home laid off all 245 workers the same day. Federal regulators said last week that they are cutting off Medicare funding to the nursing home.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also imposed a penalty of $20,965 a day for the three days that the home lost power to its air conditioning unit.

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