U.S. Supreme Court Turns Down Irma Nursing Home Case
TALLAHASSEE --- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to take up an appeal by a Broward County nursing home whose license was revoked after residents died following Hurricane Irma.
As is common, justices did not explain their reasons for declining to hear the appeal by The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which contended that its due-process rights were violated. The nursing home filed a petition at the Supreme Court in June, after the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal turned down arguments that the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration improperly revoked the license.
Monday’s decision came more than three years after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air-conditioning system at the nursing home, leading to sweltering conditions in the subsequent days. Authorities attributed as many as 12 deaths to the conditions in the facility, with the deaths and a mass evacuation drawing national media attention.
Former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration rushed to take disciplinary action against the nursing home, including moving to revoke the license. The nursing home challenged the revocation, but Administrative Law Judge Mary Li Creasy backed the state’s decision after holding a hearing --- and the 4th District Court of Appeal followed suit.
In going to the Supreme Court, attorneys for the nursing home raised a series of arguments about alleged due-process violations.
“This is a case in which Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration exercised the most extreme punishment available to long-term care facilities, the regulatory ‘death penalty’ of license revocation, against RCHH (the nursing home) after some of its residents died in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017,” the petition said. “This was done without affording the licensee the due process to which it was legally entitled: full and fair discovery and full and fair hearing that included a meaningful opportunity to offer evidence, argument, and afforded consideration pertinent to the applicable law and the licensee’s available defenses.”
But in a brief filed in August, attorneys for the Agency for Health Care Administration wrote that the nursing home “provides a sanitized version of the tragic circumstances that occurred at the facility and resulted in the avoidable loss of multiple lives.”
“As a licensed nursing home, RCHH had a duty and responsibility to ensure the safety of the residents, even following the loss of power to its A/C,” the brief said. “The demonstrated failure of RCHH to meet its responsibilities warranted AHCA’s decision to revoke RCHH’s license to operate a nursing home in Florida for the care of frail elders and disabled persons.”
While authorities have attributed as many as 12 deaths to conditions at the facility, Creasy wrote in a 2018 recommended order that “clear and convincing evidence” was presented during the case that nine of the 12 residents “suffered greatly from the exposure to unsafe heat in the facility.” Following Creasy’s recommendation, the Agency for Health Care Administration in January 2019 issued a final order revoking the license.