Nursing Home Sues to Restore Medicaid Funding Cut After Patient Deaths

(CN) – The South Florida nursing home where 10 elderly patients died after Hurricane Irma knocked the air conditioning out for three days is now suing in a bid to restore its Medicaid funding.

In the wake of the patient deaths, the state of Florida and its Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills’ participation in the Medicaid program.

On Wednesday, the nursing home fought back, asking a Leon County Circuit Court judge to enjoin the state from carrying out the suspension.

The nursing home claims the state agency exceeded its authority by issuing the emergency orders without making specific factual allegations against the facility.

The Rehabilitation Center says this abuse of power was even more egregious because the facility poses no immediate threat to public health, safety or welfare.

The lawsuit goes on to say that, “Hollywood Hills is devastated by the lives lost during this unparalleled Florida hurricane and has sent its thoughts and prayers to the families who have suffered and its staff who did their best to provide care to its residents.”

The deaths of the 10 patients is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

hurricane is believed to have knocked out a transformer that powered the nursing home’s air-conditioning system. Rescue crews were called to the 152-bed facility in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, three days after the monster storm’s initial landfall in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane. First responders say the temperature inside the building was sweltering and residents had to be evacuated across the street to Memorial Regional Hospital.

Some residents were found dead inside the nursing home while others died after being transferred to the hospital, according to Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.

Memorial Regional’s emergency department director said the evacuated residents were treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and other “heat-related issues.”

In addition to suspending the facility’s Medicaid status, the state has also halted admissions.

According to the center’s suit, these actions by the state were based on speculation and conjecture. It states that the orders lack any evidence that Hollywood Hills did anything wrong in the wake of Hurricane Irma and fail to cite a single violation on the part of the nursing home pertaining to hurricane preparedness, hurricane response or hurricane evacuations.

The suit claims that the administrative orders only state that Hollywood Hills, like most residents of Florida, lost electrical power for air conditioning to the building, but fails to state that the residents’ deaths were caused by the loss of central air conditioning. The nursing home was using portable spot air conditioners at all times.

The facility feels the orders are unjustified and were imposed without advance notice or opportunity for Hollywood Hills to be heard. The complaint goes on to state that the hurricane has passed, and all electrical power for central air conditioning to the nursing home was fully restored before the orders were issued. The center claims it is being punished for perceived past violations without the right to a fair hearing.

Hollywood Hills says an injunction should be issued because despite pointing to the resident deaths to justify its actions, the tragic loss of life does not relieve the agency from complying with the law.

The complaint cites that Medicaid suspension must be based on “reliable information of patient abuse or neglect” which was not found in this case.

It also claims that no nursing home in Florida is currently required to have a generator backup to run A/C.  There is also no precedent for evacuating residents to nearby hospitals during a natural disaster.

The suit says AHCA offered no explanation for essentially shutting down Hollywood Hills’ nursing home operations and that a routine investigation into the deaths would have sufficed.

The center claims that it was continuously in touch with Florida Power and Light about when power would be restored and that staff members were constantly checking on patients during the air-conditioning failure.

FPL was able to restore power to the facility on Wednesday morning, “hours after residents began having health emergencies.”

Hollywood Hills claims in the lawsuit that it is being punished for perceived failures during Hurricane Irma, but now that the threat of the natural disaster has passed and power to the facility’s air-conditioning unit has been restored, the center poses no immediate threat of harm.

The center says that without the injunctions to suspend the administrative orders it will be forced to close.

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