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Nursing Home Asks Congress Not To 'Rush To Judgment'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
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The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Contending that media reports have been inaccurate and sensationalized, attorneys for The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home asked that a congressional committee avoid any “rush to judgment or invitation to usurp the judicial branch” about findings of guilt, innocence, liability or wrongdoing.

In a letter Monday to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Tallahassee attorney Geoffrey D. Smith wrote that it is “important that the committee resist the urge to vilify or demonize professional caregivers and those individuals who risked their own safety and responded to a natural disaster in good faith. These people deserve more than second-guessing and, worse, the threatened criminal and regulatory punitive actions. It is very easy to place all the blame onto others.”

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills made international news in September when it was disclosed that eight residents had died after the Broward County nursing home lost its air-conditioning system in Hurricane Irma. Smith said in the letter Monday that media reports following the death of the residents were “predictably” inaccurate and sensationalized. He provided the committee with a timeline of the events at the nursing home after Hurricane Irma.

The letter said attorneys for the nursing home have tried to obtain accurate death data from the Florida Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics regarding deaths in the state between Sept. 9 and Sept. 16 but that their requests have gone unanswered. According to the letter, the facility wants to cross-reference the death data to nursing homes that lost power in the state.

Though they don't have the data, attorneys noted in the letter that “based on prior research, there will be a significant number of deaths reported as a direct result of Hurricane Irma when compared to non-hurricane years.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., sent a letter to nursing home owner Jack Michel on Oct. 20 informing him that the committee is examining emergency preparedness policies for nursing homes and federal oversight of nursing homes that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Among other things, Walden requested that the nursing home provide the committee information about the facility's inspections under Michel's ownership and what steps it has taken to correct any deficiencies.