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4 Former Staffers Face Charges Over Nursing Home Deaths After Hurricane Irma

Police officers talk to an employee at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Fla., in 2017. A number of patients died after the air conditioning stopped following Hurricane Irma, authorities said.
Marta Lavandier
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Three people turned themselves in to police Monday to face criminal charges in connection with the deaths of a dozen patients at a South Florida rehabilitation facility days after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

A fourth person was arrested by authorities in Miami-Dade County.

Those charged all worked at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when the storm knocked out a transformer that supplied power to the facility's air conditioning system.

Eight people died on Sept. 13, 2017. And though the center was evacuated that same day, four more deaths occurred in the ensuing weeks. A total of 14 nursing home residents died.

The Broward County coroner ruled that 12 of those deaths were homicides, and a criminal investigation was launched.

Two defense attorneys told NPR on Monday they were unsure of the entire scope of the case against their clients, but expected the charges to include manslaughter.

Attorney David Frankel, who represents one of the nurses, Sergo Colin, says Colin and two other employees, including administrator Jorge Carballo, turned themselves in at the Broward County jail Monday.

Police arrested nurse Tamika Miller in Miami-Dade County.

Frankel says Colin and Carballo face 12 counts of manslaughter each.

The other two nurses face lesser charges. All four are expected to be released on bail at a hearing set for 8:30 Tuesday morning.

Police did not divulge details of the charges when contacted by NPR on Monday, but did confirm a press conference will be held Tuesday morning, where Hollywood, Fla., Police Chief Chris O'Brien and others will speak on the charges.

After Irma made landfall on Sept. 10, 2017, power remained on at the facility, but the air conditioning system stopped working. Over the next few days, staff set up portable fans and other cooling units in the building. By the third day, patients began to show signs of distress.

Florida state Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat, told NPR in the days following the incident that patients "had body temperatures of 106, 107 degrees. When that happens, your body just starts to shut down."

NPR also reported at the time that Hollywood, Fla., police declined to say exactly how hot it was inside the building, but did say 158 patients were evacuated to local hospitals.

In the next few months following the deaths, lots of blame was passed around. State authorities said the tragedy should have been prevented. Staffers at the center argued they did all they could, adding that state authorities failed to provide necessary support, including former Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

NPR reported that workers claimed to have made "several calls" to the power authority and to state officials, including Scott, to get the air conditioning fixed and state authorities should have acted more quickly.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was shuttered in the days after Irma and nearly 250 employees were laid off.

The next month, Scott signed an executive order requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators to ensure power is not lost during an outage.

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Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.