Florida governor’s office deleted critical messages related to post-hurricane nursing home deaths

Photo: Emily Michot, Miami Herald File

Washington Post by Kyle Swenson

September 25, 2017

As Florida continues to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, more confusion builds around the 11 heat-related deaths at a South Florida nursing home following the storm earlier this month.

But a critical issue — whether administrators from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County made distress calls for help to Gov. Rick Scott’s private cellphone — will probably not be cleared up soon. On Sunday, the Florida governor’s office revealed the four key voice mails from the center have been deleted.

“Why not just keep it?” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, told the Miami Herald. “It’s bothersome to say the least. Right now, we’re in a he said, she said.”

The deleted messages — first reported by CBS Miami’s Jim DeFede — pinged Scott’s inbox in the 36 hours before the first patient’s death, a stretch of time between Sept. 10 and Sept. 11 when the facility lost critical power to its air conditioning system. The center’s administrators maintain the calls to Scott were seeking “immediate assistance.”

Scott’s office, however, says the calls never indicated an emergency, and that the information was passed on to the appropriate state agencies.

But now the voice mails are gone.

“The voice mails were not retained because the information from each voice mail was collected by the governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling,” a Scott spokeswoman said Sunday in a statement. “Every call was returned.”

The administration explained the voice mails fall into the legal category of “transitory messages,” which under state law can be deleted once they “become obsolete or lose administrative value,” the Miami Herald reported. The governor’s office said the calls were promptly returned by state officials, who urged nursing home staff to dial 911 in an emergency.

Since the heat-related deaths, both the facility and Scott have been heaping blame in the other direction.

The state has aggressively laid fault on the facility in Hollywood, Fla. [READ MORE]

 

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