Nurses didn't evacuate patients after AC went out. Now they'll face charges after 12 patient deaths.

The center where the deaths occurred. [Google maps]
The center where the deaths occurred. [Google maps]
Published Aug. 25, 2019

FORT LAUDERDALE — Arrests are expected Monday in the case of a Florida nursing home where 12 elderly patients died after it lost power during a 2017 hurricane, according to defense attorneys.

Lawrence Hashish says his client is one of three nurses and an administrator being charged. He said they don't yet know what the charges are, but that it will likely be some form of manslaughter.

Police have been investigating the deaths for nearly two years but no charges have been filed. He said his client and the other nurses are merely scapegoats.

"The real crime is that the state is looking to blame selfless caregivers and the evidence will show that no crime was committed," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday.

Patients began dying at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills days after the hurricane. Investigators say the center did not evacuate patients as temperatures inside rose, even though a fully functional hospital was across the street. The home's license was suspended days after the storm and it later shuttered.

Paramedic Craig Wohlitka and other paramedics from Hollywood Fire-Rescue testified last year that he was haunted by the deaths of 12 patients. Fire Lt. Amy Parrinello said one of the female victims had a temperature of 107.5 degrees (42 Celsius), the highest she had ever seen in his 12-year career. Later that morning, another patient topped that with a temperature that was so high it couldn't be measured, she said.

Wohlitka said that after the man's death, the crew decided to start checking other patients who hadn't been reported as ill. He said they saw a woman in a room who appeared sick, but a home employee said they had just checked her and she was fine.

The case made national headlines and sparked political backlash. Months after the deaths, lawmakers passed a bill requiring backup power sources in Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The legislation require the facilities to have a generator capable of keeping nursing homes and assisted living facilities at 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) or lower for at least four days.

Hashish declined to give his clients name, but she was works as a full-time nurse at another facility and was just picking up a shift that day.

"They called her, they said, 'can you come and help? We're short-handed' and look what she walked into," he said.