Tragic deaths in Florida/Ohio nursing homes shine spotlight on rising incidence of abuse and neglect.

Use our checklist to find the best facility for your loved one and to determine if they are receiving poor care

 Like people across the country, all of us at Betras, Kopp & Harshman were saddened by the news that nine residents of a nursing home in Hollywood Hills, Florida died after air conditioning at the facility stopped working after Hurricane Irma hit the area.  The patients, who ranged in age from 71 to 99 died from heat and lack of oxygen. More than 140 other residents of the facility had to be hospitalized. Many were in serious condition, some with body temperatures above 106 degrees.

The details of the tragedy, which are emerging slowing, are maddening:

Irma did not knock out power to the home, the air conditioning stopped working because a circuit breaker in a transformer tripped during the storm and was not repaired for three days.

Patients, many of them extremely frail, languished in the heat and humidity for those three days. The nursing home administrators and staff could have brought in portable air conditioners and fans. They didn’t, even as residents began to have difficulty breathing and suffering cardiac arrest.

The hospital directly across the street from the facility had air conditioning. Residents of the nursing home weren’t transferred there until they began to die.

Authorities are just beginning to investigate the incident, but it’s clear that the deaths and injuries could and should have been avoided.

While what happened in Florida was dramatic, the type of abuse and neglect that led to the death of nine people is all too commonplace and occurs in facilities around the nation every day, including here in the Valley.

Our office is currently representing the family of a 70-year-old man who died in a Boardman, Ohio nursing home because he was given the wrong medication and was then ignored by staff when he began to suffer life-threatening problems due to the error. To make matters worse, the staff then tried to cover up their mistake. Three workers at the facility are facing criminal charges for neglecting the resident and tampering with records. We’ve filed suit against the nursing home and are seeking monetary damages to compensate the family and punish the nursing home for allowing the death to occur.

It should come as no surprise that as America’s population ages the number of people who reside in assisted living and nursing facilities has grown rapidly. Unfortunately, incidents of abuse and neglect that lead to serious injury and death are growing just as quickly.  That means family members and friends must constantly be on the lookout for signs that a loved one is being mistreated or that conditions in the facility are not what they should be. And they must be ready to act quickly if they believe a resident is in danger.

The Hollywood Hills tragedy underscores the fact that a facility’s condition can be an accurate indicator of the quality of care being provided to residents. Inspectors investigating the death said the home was not clean or well-supplied and noted that they found peeling paint, chipped and scratched doors and floors, broken furniture, overflowing trash bins, rusty air conditioning vents, soiled bathtubs and cracked or missing bathroom floor tiles.

Those conditions are not only unsafe and illegal, they’re red flags that something is amiss in the facility and that residents are probably in danger—in this case fatally so.

To help avoid tragedies like the ones we’ve described, we urge family members and loved ones to use this checklist developed by the AARP whether you’re selecting a facility or a loved one is already a resident:

  1. How does the food look and taste?
  2. What sounds do you hear?
  3. What does it smell like?
  4. Is the staff overworked?
  5. How do residents spend their afternoons?
  6. How does the staff interact with each other?
  7. Do you see bruising?
  8. How does the home handle a fall?
  9. Are there unexplained bedsores?
  10. Are personal care needs being met?

You can view/download the list with detailed explanations of each item here.

If the answers to these questions for other factors lead you to believe that a resident is suffering take action immediately. Start by notifying the nursing home administrator.  Federal law requires them to report claims of abuse to state agencies which will assign investigators to the case.

You can also report your concerns to state officials. In Ohio, contact the long-term Care Ombudsman at 800-282-1206

or visit

In Pennsylvania call the 24-hour elder abuse hotline at 1-800-490-8505.

In Florida contact the Florida abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (800-962-2873).

While the mere report of abuse usually prompts administrators to immediately remove those suspected of mistreating a resident, if the offender can’t be identified right away steps must be taken to remove the resident from harm’s way at once.  If you believe your loved one is in immediate danger, contact the police and arrange for them to be moved to a local hospital until arrangements can be made with another facility.

Once you are sure the resident is safe, you should call the experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at Betras, Kopp & Harshman to arrange a free consultation. We will carefully listen to your concerns, evaluate and investigate the situation, give you sound advice on how to protect your loved one, and discuss the legal options that are available to you and your family.