Hurricane Irma struck South Florida with a vengeance in September 2017, leaving 75 percent of the state without power. Many people died from the storm’s effects, including 12 residents of the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, just outside Miami.
On August 26, an administrator and three nurses – chief administrator, Jorge Carballo, the supervising nurse, Sergo Colin, and two nurses, Althia Meggie, and Tamika Miller – at the now-closed facility were charged with aggravated manslaughter and other offenses resulting from these heat-related deaths. The state revoked the nursing home’s license within a month after Irma hit.
Carballo, 61, and Colin, 45, both face 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter, which is one for each of the eight residents dying of heat exposure on Sept. 13, 2017, as well as four residents who died later on and are considered “heat-related homicides.” Those who succumbed to the intense heat ranged in age from 57 to 99, with half of the dead in their 90s.
No Air Conditioning
Although Irma knocked out power to the nursing home, it was equipped with a generator providing some electricity. However, the generator was not sufficient to power the nursing home’s air conditioning system. While temperatures in the building reached dangerously high levels, the administration waited three days before evacuating the vulnerable residents.
Power went out at the nursing home on Sept. 10. For the following three days, as temperatures soared, the staff tried to alleviate the heat with fans and portable coolers, as well as using air ducts as a conduit for chillers.
By Sept. 13, some patients had temperatures above 107 degrees. They were sweltering, experiencing breathing difficulties, and feeling dizzy. Within 10 hours on that dreadful day, eight were dead. Approximately 100 residents were later transferred to local hospitals.
New to the Job
Two of the defendants, Colin and Meggie, had only recently started working at the nursing home. Colin had worked there just one week, yet was put in charge of the building during the hurricane emergency. Meggie was a new hire, while fellow nurse Miller was relatively inexperienced, as she only became a Licensed Practical Nurse that year. The two women cared for second-floor residents, among the sickest in the facility.
All but one of the deaths occurred in those living on the second floor. The women were charged with two counts of manslaughter and two counts of evidence tampering. One report listed a patient as “resting” without visible signs of breathing problems, when in fact the person was already deceased.
Attorneys for the defendants say their clients were good people who were trying their best in a terrible situation. They warned that a similar case in Louisiana – after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and 34 nursing home patients drowned – ended with the jury deciding it was inappropriate for the government to prosecute healthcare workers who had to make tough decisions in a bad situation.
A lawyer said it could result in healthcare workers refusing to go to work when hurricanes are predicted, rather than risk criminal prosecution for circumstances beyond their control.
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