Me­dia sue for records on nurs­ing home deaths

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - LOCAL - By David Flesh­ler Staff writer

The Sun Sen­tinel on Thurs­day joined a law­suit by The Mi­ami Her­ald to force the city of Hol­ly­wood to pro­duce 911 calls and po­lice re­ports on the nurs­ing home that lost power in Hur­ri­cane Irma, re­sult­ing in the deaths of 14 res­i­dents.

Re­porters had re­quested record­ings of 911 calls from Sept. 13 and po­lice in­ci­dent re­ports from Sept. 13 and 14 in­volv­ing the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter at Hol­ly­wood Hills, where the power sup­ply to the air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem failed in the storm, lead­ing to a se­ries of deaths in the swel­ter­ing heat and a mass evac­u­a­tion.

The city de­nied the news­pa­pers’ re­quests, although it agreed to pro­duce logs of 911 calls in the days be­fore the deaths.

In their law­suit, the news­pa­pers ar­gue that the record­ings and re­ports are pub­lic records and that the city has not cited any valid ex­emp­tions to the state open-records law in deny­ing the re­quest.

“The City is with­hold­ing from the pub­lic, and Plain­tiffs, in­for­ma­tion which indis­putably is pub­lic record un­der Chap­ter 119, Flor­ida Statutes,” states the law­suit, filed in Broward Cir­cuit Court.

The city of Hol­ly­wood did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a call for com­ment.

The Hol­ly­wood Po­lice Depart­ment and Flor­ida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment have both opened crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the nurs­ing homes deaths, and Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced an emer­gency rule re­quir­ing nurs­ing homes to in­stall gen­er­a­tors within 60 days. The nurs­ing home was or­dered shut down.

In their law­suit, the news­pa­pers say the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions have no bear­ing on

whether the records should be re­leased.

“Be­cause crim­i­nal in­ves­tiga­tive in­for­ma­tion does not shield the in­for­ma­tion sought, the City is un­law­fully with­hold­ing this in­for­ma­tion,” the law­suit states.

The hor­rific in­ci­dent drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and gen­er­ated fin­ger­point­ing among the nurs­ing home, Flor­ida Power & Light Co. and Gov. Rick Scott. The home, owned by Dr. Jack Michel, said its calls for help to state agen­cies and to the gover­nor’s cell phone were ig­nored and that FPL failed to show up four times to fix the power. The gover­nor has dis­puted its ac­count and said the the home’s staff should have called 911 im­me­di­ately if they thought their res­i­dents were in dan­ger.

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