The Slatest

Voicemails From Florida Nursing Home Where 11 Died During Irma Deleted by Governor’s Office

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks with President Donald Trump during his visit to the state after Hurricane Irma on Sept. 14.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

New reporting has found that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office deleted voicemails from the Florida nursing home where 11 people died from heat-related causes in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

CBS Miami found that employees of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills left four voicemails on Scott’s personal cellphone in the 36 hours before the first death, when the facility’s air conditioning system had lost power. The governor’s office on Sunday said those voicemails—and any evidence they might have provided for the ongoing investigation into the 11 deaths—have been deleted.

The exact nature of the calls, however, is in dispute. The home’s administrators claim the calls were distress calls. Scott’s office maintains they didn’t express a need for emergency assistance, and it told reporters that someone from the state Department of Health returned the calls and that state officials told the nursing home to call 911 if any of the residents were in need of emergency help.

The reporting has complicated the story of the nursing home, which is under a criminal investigation after it was found that the home had a history of safety violations and failed to meet requirements related to its backup power sources.

The Miami Herald reported that Scott’s office said the voicemails were “transitory messages,” which under Florida state law can be deleted once they “lose administrative value.” A spokeswoman for the governor said that the voicemails “were not retained because the information from each voicemail was collected by the governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling.”

Before the hurricane, Scott had held conference calls dealing with hurricane preparation. During the calls, he gave out his personal cellphone number and told the health care centers they could call him if they experienced trouble.

Recent reporting also found records that indicated the nursing home staff might have made misleading entries into medical records by waiting hours after a nurse visited the patients. “The facility also entered late entries into the medical records claiming safe temperatures for patients while those same patients were across the street dying in the emergency room with temperatures of over 108 degrees Fahrenheit,” Justin Senior, the secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, said in a release.

The Hollywood, Florida, nursing home’s license has been suspended, and the governor has cut off its Medicaid and Medicare funding. The Florida AHCA concluded in an investigation that the “residents of the facility did not receive timely medical care because the trained medical professionals at the facility overwhelmingly delayed calling 911,” according to the release. They also said the patients were not evacuated quickly enough and that they showed up at the hospital with temperatures of about 109 degrees Fahrenheit, “far too late to be saved.”

The nursing home lost power to its air conditioning system sometime on Sept. 10 and, according to CBS Miami, contacted the power company with an emergency request to have the power restored. The nursing home says that they were told crews would be dispatched the next morning and that they finally called Scott’s office after repeated calls to the power company the next day when the crews did not show.

According to the governor’s office’s timeline, Scott’s aides received the first call on the evening of Sept. 11 and the other three on Sept. 12. The chief of staff for the Department of Health returned the first call two hours later, Scott’s office said, and health care administrators returned the others the next day. On the morning of Sept. 13, several residents died, and most others were evacuated or rushed to the hospital. By the end of the day, eight people had died.