Defense attorneys said Sunday that arrests are expected shortly in the case of a Florida nursing home where 12 elderly patients died after the complex lost power and was engulfed by sweltering heat when powerful Hurricane Irma struck in 2017.
Lawrence Hashish told The Associated Press his client is one of three nurses, in addition to an administrator, expecting to be charged in connection with the deaths after Hurricane Irma, which blew through Florida on Sept. 10 of that year. The storm knocked out a transformer connecting the main air-conditioning unit to the power grid at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, sending temperatures soaring .
Hashish said the attorneys don’t yet know what the specific charges would be, but he expected it would likely be some form of manslaughter.
Twelve deaths at the center had been ruled homicides . Police have been investigating the deaths for nearly two years but no charges have been filed. A voice message and email left by the AP for Hollywood Police were not immediately returned Sunday.
Hashish said his client and the others 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 said in a phone interview,
His co-counsel, Ilham Soffan, told the AP that their client was turning herself in Monday. The attorneys said they didn’t have any further details about the charges and planned to negotiatiate a bond agreement before an expected hearing Monday morning.
Patients began dying at the rehabilitation center days after the devastating hurricane struck Florida amid widespread power outages. Investigators said the center did not evacuate patients as temperatures inside began rising, even though a fully functional hospital was across the street. The home’s license was suspended days after the storm and it was later shuttered.
Paramedic Craig Wohlitka and other paramedics from Hollywood Fire-Rescue testified last year that he was haunted by the deaths of patients there. 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, she said, another patient topped that with a temperature that was so high it couldn’t be measured.
Wohlitka said 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.
In the aftermath of Irma, the deaths 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 required 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 client’s name, but said 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.
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