State attorney declines invitation to investigate Gov. Rick Scott over nursing home deaths

State Attorney Jack Campbell will ignore the call of a group of retirees to investigate Gov. Rick Scott's response to pleas for help from a nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Fourteen people died when a lack of electricity turned a South Florida facility into an oven. Patients’ body temperatures soared above 107 degrees. Workers said calls for help to a phone number Scott gave out went unanswered.

The governor disputes that account.

"The owners and operators of this facility have offered no explanation or defense for the deaths of these patients in their care, other than to say they left messages on my personal cell phone," said Scott in a statement provided by his office.

"In each instance, the calls were promptly returned by state officials, and the voicemails were immediately deleted so the voicemail box had room for more incoming messages," said Scott.

Florida Alliance for Retired Americans wanted Campbell to clear up the confusion. surrounding those messages. They wanted to know what Scott knew about the conditions at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and when he knew it.  And whether it was appropriate to delete the voicemail messages.

“All we can say is what the people at the nursing home said,” explained Mark Herron, the Alliance’s Tallahassee attorney. “If the governor’s office has deleted the messages then we’ll never know what exactly was said.”

Monday morning, standing in the hallway leading to the governor’s office, Herron explained the recordings were clearly a public record, but Scott’s office has said the recordings were of a transitory nature — containing short-term information the courts allow to be discarded.

“I don’t find any crime here,” said Campbell Monday afternoon. “I looked at it. I had staff look at it. Based on the allegations, this is transitory."

The Broward County nursing home lost power Sept. 10 due to Irma. The heat rose dramatically and within three days eight residents had died. On Sept. 13 workers placed six emergency calls and when paramedics from Memorial Regional Hospital arrived they said they were stunned. They found patients with high body temperatures and suffering from heat stroke. Six more died after they were rushed to hospitals.

“We deserve a governor who will pick up the phone,” said Barbara Devane of the Alliance of Retired Americans. “Why would he give out his phone number if he wasn’t going to answer urgent calls from a nursing home?”

Scott responded to the deaths with an emergency rule that require nursing homes to have enough emergency power to keep facilities at temperatures below 80 degrees for four days.

Tallahassee Democrat


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