Two Broward healthcare workers who were charged with aggravated manslaughter last year in connection with the deaths of 12 people at a Hollywood nursing home following Hurricane Irma are asking a judge to dismiss the cases against them, claiming that former Governor Rick Scott destroyed evidence that would have helped their defense.
Residents at the nursing home, called Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, began dying three days after Hurricane Irma made landfall in South Florida on September 10, 2017.
Temperatures inside the facility reach 99 degrees while the power was knocked out following the storm.
Broward County prosecutors later charged four of the facility’s employees, claiming they had neglected their duties and failed to provide adequate care to residents during the hurricane’s aftermath.
Two of the workers — Sergo Colin, who was a night shift nursing supervisor, and Jorge Carballo, who served as the facility’s administrator — filed the motion to dismiss earlier this week. They told a Broward County judge the cases should be thrown out because the state violated due process by destroying voicemails nursing home employees had left on Scott’s cellphone after the storm. Scott had given out his number during hurricane preparations and told administrators they should contact him directly for assistance, according to the men.
After the deaths, which were ultimately blamed on the lack of an electrical supply to the facility’s air conditioning system, Scott tried to place the blame elsewhere “so as to cover up the debacle at RCHH that he personally created,” the motion to dismiss states. The men also all allege that Scott ordered the deletion of voice messages that included cries for help.
The motion states, “As a direct result of Governor Scott’s order to destroy the recordings so as to cover up his own failings, the jury in this case will never have the opportunity to listen to heartfelt and desperate pleas to Governor Scott to please order [Florida Power & Light] to restore power to the A/C chiller.”
In September 2017, Scott’s office told reporters who asked for access to the voicemails through public records requests that staff members had deleted the voice messages after they were transcribed.
In response to the new allegations, the office for Scott, who was elected as Florida’s junior senator two years ago, says that Colin and Carballo are being held accountable for “their inexplicable failure to call 911 when people were in need.”
“Every child knows that when there is imminent danger, 911 is the number to call,” a Scott spokeswoman explains. “Yet, trained health staff at this facility didn’t even do that. In addition to not calling 911, the nursing home never pursued transferring its residents to the hospital located directly across the street that had full power.”
Attorney Jim Cobb, who is representing the defendants, argued after the charges against his clients were first filed last year, that Memorial Regional Hospital across the street was “slammed” after the hurricane and could not accommodate the nursing home’s residents.
In response to the deaths at the nursing home, Scott issued a series of emergency orders, including one that requires such living facilities to have generators and enough fuel to keep their operations and cooling systems running for at least four days after a disruption.
State lawmakers eventually reached a compromise with Scott, requiring facilities to submit emergency power plans proving they have installed an alternate power source that can supply electricity for four days. The rules also establish requirements for keeping backup fuel on site for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Hollywood Hills had a backup generator that kicked in when Hurricane Irma knocked out two area transformers that were powering the facility. The generator only provided power for the lights, medical equipment and appliances, while another transformer that provided power to the air-conditioning system remained nonoperational.