U.S. Senate panel investigating South Florida nursing home hurricane deaths

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is investigating the circumstances surrounding the 14 patient deaths at the nursing home in Hollywood, Florida during Hurricane Irma.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee announced in a press release that it will be investigating the circumstances surrounding the 14 deaths which occurred in a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida during Hurricane Irma.

This follows Senator Bill Nelson writing a letter to request such an investigation.

“It is my understanding that it is the state’s responsibility to certify a nursing home’s compliance with all federal emergency preparedness regulations in order to receive federal payments under the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” Nelson wrote on September 29 to Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden, who serve as the panel’s Chairman and Ranking Member respectively. “Because the certification for a skilled nursing facility is subject to CMS approval, and the Senate Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over the Medicare and Medicaid programs, I urge the Committee to use its authority to conduct a complete investigation into the State of Florida’s certification of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills to determine what led to the deaths of 12 seniors there in the wake of Hurricane Irma.”

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In 2016, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finalized new national emergency preparedness requirements for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating providers and suppliers. This new rule requires long-term care facilities to develop emergency preparedness plans to ensure that staff’s and residents’ basic needs are met in the event of natural or man-made disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. It also explicitly requires facilities to have policies and procedures in place to address alternate sources of energy to maintain temperatures during these emergencies.

Federal regulations state that it is the state's responsibility to ensure that a nursing home is in compliance with all applicable federal rules and regulations. The investigation will delve into this.

More than 100 patients were evacuated from the home on September 13 after three patients were found dead. Five more died later that day and others died in the following days. Some who died had body temperatures as high as 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NBC Miami. A total of 14 residents died and the facility had to lay off 245 workers.

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Here is the letter from Bill Nelson, in full, requesting the investigation.

Here is the Finance Committee's letter to the State of Florida.

Here is the Finance Committee's letter to the Committees for Medicare and Medicaid Services.