Exclusive: Nursing Home Employees Describe Chaotic Evacuation After Deaths

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Read: Part 1

HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) – After weeks of being portrayed as a group of uncaring nursing home employees who allowed residents from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills to die, two of the employees who worked inside the home want the public to know they did everything they could.

In their first and only interview, the employees, who were laid off when the nursing home closed following the deaths of more than a dozen residents, expressed anger and frustration at the media, state politicians and even some of the family members of those that died.

“It is a shame the way the media is saying like we didn’t care, like we didn’t care about the patients and the patients passed away because we didn’t take care them,” said one of the employees. “That’s not true. That’s not true.”

Added the second employee: “Everything is not what the media says. I mean there was caring people in that building and they still are caring people.”

Both of the employees spoke on condition their names not be used. They both said they are trying to find another job but the stigma attached to the nursing home makes that nearly impossible.

The employees we spoke to said everyone in the nursing home helped during the storm, checking and tending to residents even if it wasn’t typically their job to do so.

“We are making sure the residents had what they need,” said the first employee who oversaw housekeeping for the home.

“Everybody was working for the patients and just keeping them comfortable,” said the second employee, who worked in admitting for the home.

Like other employees, their anger is directed at FPL.

“Maintenance was calling, I was calling,” said the first employee. “I called like 17 times to be honest.”

During one call she was told her nursing home wasn’t a priority.

“And I said, `What do you mean we’re not priority? We’re supposed to be priority we’re a nursing home,’” she recalled.

Despite the lack of a response from FPL, the Governor and other state officials, they said they believed they were going to be alright. They all said they never felt the need to evacuate.

“I didn’t think we needed it,” said the first employee. “I didn’t think we needed to evacuate on Tuesday when I was here.”

When she left the nursing home 1 p.m. Tuesday she said it was warm but it didn’t seem that the heat was a problem.

“When I left out of here everything was going fine, everything was going fine,” she said. “I don’t know what happened there.”

Twelve hours after she left, starting at around 1 a.m., a series of calls were placed to 911 as nursing home residents on the second floor began crashing. Four patients would die inside the nursing home in those early morning hours. Four more died later that morning after being evacuated. In the days and weeks that followed a total of fourteen residents would die. The cause is still being investigated.

The second employee, who left Monday afternoon, said the nursing home was asked to take four additional patients after the AC lost power.

“That Monday we admitted four patients and they all came from Memorial, I think except one,” she said, referring to Memorial Regional Hospital across the street.

Asked what that meant, she said: “That they wanted to get patients out They didn’t us to evacuate there – like they say that we could have gone over there. They didn’t want that.”

She also said Memorial officials were aware the AC was out inside the nursing home.

“Your staff was telling them [the nursing home] had no AC,” asked CBS4’s Jim DeFede.

“Yes,” she replied.

“And they sent them anyway?”

“Yes,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Memorial issued the following statement: “We are fully cooperating with the criminal investigation. We will not discuss any HIPAA protected information. We believe the evacuation saved lives that day.”

Both employees said they were stunned when they heard residents had died inside the nursing home.

“I received a phone call around 6:56 from one of my employees and she said you need to get here,” said the first employee. “And I said what happened? People are dying. That was the word that she used. I said what? I got here at 7:05 in the morning and it was, it was crazy. Crazy. Like the cops, doctors, everybody from ER next door.

She said there was chaos. She went directly to the second floor.

“It was hot. It was very hot because it was a lot of people,” she said. “It was very, very hot. I don’t know what was the temperature but you can feel it that it was hot.”

There were paramedics and employees from Memorial Hospital in all the rooms. In one room a nursing home residents was crying out in agony as strangers were trying to move her.

“They were trying to move a patient that had hip surgery trying to sit them down,” she recalled. “And I said you can’t sit her down. You need to get a stretcher or a recliner. I said she just had a hip surgery you can’t sit her down. And she was in pain, she was screaming.”

These former employees were angered by a video taken by a family member of two of the residents. The video shows a man and a woman in separate beds, the window open and a fan in the corner of their room.

“She had the time to take a video of her parents but she didn’t have time to take them out of bed and take them home,” said the first employee.

“Those same loved ones knew what kind of nursing care that we gave,” added the second employee. “I mean why would they have had their loved ones there for so long if we weren’t giving them excellent care. It doesn’t make sense.”

(In Part 3 of the investigation, meet a New Orleans attorney now representing The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills who compares this tragedy to deaths at a nursing home during Hurricane Katrina.)

More from Jim DeFede
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