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Hollywood (CBSMiami) – The voicemail messages left on Gov. Rick Scott’s personal cellphone by a Hollywood nursing home where at least 11 people have died following Hurricane Irma, were deleted, according to the governor’s office.
There were a total of four voicemails left during the 36 hours before the first patient died, and they would have been a critical piece of evidence in the ongoing investigation into the patient deaths.
Natasha Anderson, a vice president with The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, says she called the governor’s cellphone to say the nursing home needed “immediate assistance” in restoring the power to their air conditioning system.
Scott said at no time did anyone from the nursing home suggest there was a crisis or that patients were in danger.
In response to CBS4’s request for copies of the voicemails, a spokeswoman with the governor’s office, wrote in an email: “The voicemails were not retained because the information from each voicemail was collected by the Governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling.”
The Governor has cut off Medicaid and Medicare funding for the nursing home and suspended its license. The Governor’s actions, however, have also come under scrutiny.
In the week leading up to Irma, Gov. Scott held a series of conference calls with emergency managers as well as hospital and nursing home officials. During those conference calls he gave out his cellphone number and said if any of the healthcare centers experienced trouble they should call him at that number and he would work to resolve their problem.
Hurricane Irma hit South Florida Sunday September 10 and the nursing home lost some power around 3 p.m. The 152-bed facility located in Hollywood, Florida, has two transformers supplying power to the nursing home. One transformer handles life and safety systems while the second supports the air conditioning system. The storm only knocked out power to the air conditioning system.
On September 10, at 3:49 p.m, administrators contacted Florida Power and Light with an emergency request to restore power. According to nursing home officials, FPL said they would have crews dispatched the next morning.
By the evening of September 11, after repeated calls to FPL, Anderson, the nursing home officials, dialed the cellphone number provided by Scott. It went straight to voicemail. Anderson made three additional calls to Scott’s cellphone on September 12.
The governor’s office says the calls were returned by someone from the state Department of Health and that the nursing home was told that if they had anyone in distress they should call 911 for help.
The nursing home also spoke to the emergency operations center in Tallahassee, which notified the nursing home that their FPL repair order would be “escalated.”
Between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Wednesday September 13, patients at the nursing suffered myriad health issues and during that time at least five of the patients died. State officials say temperatures inside the nursing home were high and that some of the dead registered body temperatures as high as 109 degrees.
The nursing home was then evacuated and at least a half dozen patients would die in the hours and days that followed. The cause of death is still being determined.
The governor’s office said the voicemails were deleted in accordance with the state’s public records law.
The existence of the voice mail messages is irrelevant, officials said.
“None of this changes the fact that this facility chose not to call 911 or evacuate their patients to the hospital across the street to save lives,” a spokeswoman noted.