MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Arrest warrants have been issued against four employees of the Hollywood Hills nursing home, accusing them of playing a role in the deaths of a dozen residents after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning for the facility, defense attorneys for the workers told CBS Miami.
The employees, including the nursing home’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, and the head nurse on duty during the storm, Sergo Colin, are expected to surrender to Hollywood Police Monday morning.
Carballo and Colin are expected to face twelve counts of manslaughter, according to their attorneys. Two other employees, both nurses, are expected to face less serious charges.
“We believe that when the evidence comes out it will show that the staff at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was dedicated to their roles as caretakers and did everything, they could under the emergency disaster circumstances after the hurricane,” lead defense attorney David Frankel, told CBS Miami.
Added Lawrence Hashish, an attorney representing one of the nurses: “My client and the people she was working with were caring for residents under natural disaster conditions created by Hurricane Irma. No one could have anticipated the tragedy to come.”
“The real crime is that the state is looking to blame selfless care givers,” he continued. “The evidence will show no crimes were committed.”
Hollywood Police did not respond Saturday afternoon for comment. The imminent arrest of nursing home workers was first reported by The South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Monday’s anticipated arrests would be the culmination of a criminal investigation into the nursing home that has been underway since the deaths were first reported nearly two years ago.
Hurricane Irma hit South Florida Sunday September 10, 2017 and the nursing home lost some power around 3 p.m. The 152-bed facility has two transformers supplying power to the nursing home. One transformer handled life and safety systems while the second supported the air conditioning system. The storm only knocked out power to the air conditioning system.
On September 10, 2017, 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. (It was later uncovered that the nursing home was not on FPL’s high priority list that would have assured them a faster response.)
By the evening of September 11, after repeated calls to FPL, nursing home officials dialed the cellphone number provided by then Governor Rick Scott in a series of emergency meetings before the storm. It went straight to voicemail. Three additional calls to Scott’s cellphone were placed 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, 2017, patients at the nursing suffered myriad health issues. State officials say temperatures inside the nursing home were extremely high and that some of the dead registered body temperatures as high as 109 degrees.
The nursing home had emergency air conditioning units, but the exhaust vents for the AC units on the first-floor of the nursing home were mistakenly placed above the ceiling tiles, which resulted in hot air being blown toward the second-floor where most of the deaths occurred.
Four residents died inside the nursing home in the early morning hours of Wednesday September 13, three days after Hurricane Irma hit. Another four residents died shortly after the nursing home was evacuated. And the rest died in the days and weeks that followed. The Broward Medical Examiner ruled the deaths as homicides.
After the storm, the state revoked the nursing home’s license. Following a lengthy hearing last year, an administrative law judge agreed with the state’s decision to revoke the license. The nursing home is appealing that decision as well as defending itself against numerous civil lawsuits.
The arrests in Hollywood is reminiscent of a similar case in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, 35 residents of St. Rita’s Nursing Home in St Bernard Parrish drowned when the flood waters from the storm consumed the nursing home.
The owners of the nursing home, Sal and Mabel Mangano, were charged with 35 counts of homicide. Two years later they were acquitted.
Jim Cobb represented the Manganos in their criminal trial. Cobb is now working on behalf of Hollywood Hills and is expected to represent the home’s administrator in the upcoming case in Florida.
In 2017, CBS Miami interviewed Cobb and he defended the actions of the nursing home, offering a bleak assessment of why some of these residents died.
“The majority of patients who expired were on Hospice,” he said at the time. “What happens in these situations, and we saw it in Louisiana, is the sickest folks go first. They are the weakest.”
The case against the workers is expected to be an emotional one. Family members of those who died said the workers should have done more to help their loved ones. They point out that Memorial Regional Hospital was across the street from the nursing home and the patients should have been evacuated sooner.
For years, the families have been calling for someone to be held accountable.
As Pedro Franco, whose mother and father both died after the storm, explarined: “We want justice. We trusted these people they are supposed to be professionally trained to save people’s lives.”