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State Seeks To Block Nursing Home Records Request

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

The Florida Department of Health this week asked a circuit judge to dismiss a public-records lawsuit filed by a Broward County nursing home where residents died after Hurricane Irma.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills filed the case last month in Leon County circuit court, alleging that the department had improperly refused to provide copies of death certificates for people across the state from Sept. 9 through Sept. 16 --- a week-long period that included Hurricane Irma and its immediate aftermath.

The lawsuit said the Department of Health responded to the public-records request by requiring the nursing home to request each death certificate by the name of the person who had died and to use a department form.

Attorneys for the nursing home alleged that such requirements violate the state’s public-records law. But in a 10-page motion filed Monday, the department argued the case should be dismissed. The motion contends that the nursing home’s large request falls under part of state law dealing with “vital records or data” and that the nursing home’s request doesn’t meet legal standards for releasing such information.

“Whereas anyone may request and receive a redacted death certificate (under part of state law), only certain people and entities may receive the type of general data that would allow research to be conducted,” the motion said. “Such data … is far more broad than simply one or two specifically requested death certificates. The only possible purpose for this subsection (of law) is to regulate who may obtain large swaths of data derived from death certificates and other such records.”

The motion said the nursing home is “not the type of entity which may receive this data.”

The lawsuit did not detail the reasons for seeking the death certificates, but the nursing home has been locked in legal battles over the state’s attempt to revoke its license.

Hurricane Irma knocked out the home’s air conditioning on Sept. 10, and residents were evacuated from the sweltering facility on Sept. 13. Authorities have attributed 12 deaths to the problems at the nursing home.