Three people turned themselves in to police Monday to face criminal charges in connection with the deaths of a dozen patients at a South Florida rehabilitation facility days after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
A fourth person was arrested by authorities in Miami-Dade County.
Those charged all worked at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when the storm knocked out a transformer that supplied power to the facility's air conditioning system.
Eight people died on Sept. 13, 2017. And though the center was evacuated that same day, four more deaths occurred in the ensuing weeks. A total of 14 nursing home residents died.
The Broward County coroner ruled that 12 of those deaths were homicides, and a criminal investigation was launched.
Two defense attorneys told NPR on Monday they were unsure of the entire scope of the case against their clients, but expected the charges to include manslaughter.
Attorney David Frankel, who represents one of the nurses, Sergo Colin, says Colin and two other employees, including administrator Jorge Carballo, turned themselves in at the Broward County jail Monday.
Police arrested nurse Tamika Miller in Miami-Dade County.
Frankel says Colin and Carballo face 12 counts of manslaughter each.
The other two nurses face lesser charges. All four are expected to be released on bail at a hearing set for 8:30 Tuesday morning.
Police did not divulge details of the charges when contacted by NPR on Monday, but did confirm a press conference will be held Tuesday morning, where Hollywood, Fla., Police Chief Chris O'Brien and others will speak on the charges.
After Irma made landfall on Sept. 10, 2017, power remained on at the facility, but the air conditioning system stopped working. Over the next few days, staff set up portable fans and other cooling units in the building. By the third day, patients began to show signs of distress.
Florida state Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat, told NPR in the days following the incident that patients "had body temperatures of 106, 107 degrees. When that happens, your body just starts to shut down."
NPR also reported at the time that Hollywood, Fla., police declined to say exactly how hot it was inside the building, but did say 158 patients were evacuated to local hospitals.
In the next few months following the deaths, lots of blame was passed around. State authorities said the tragedy should have been prevented. Staffers at the center argued they did all they could, adding that state authorities failed to provide necessary support, including former Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
NPR reported that workers claimed to have made "several calls" to the power authority and to state officials, including Scott, to get the air conditioning fixed and state authorities should have acted more quickly.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was shuttered in the days after Irma and nearly 250 employees were laid off.
The next month, Scott signed an executive order requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators to ensure power is not lost during an outage.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Florida police have announced charges against employees of a nursing home where 12 people died after Hurricane Irma. The employees - an administrator and three nurses - were on duty at the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills when elderly patients began dying from heat exposure. NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Family members of some of those who died at the nursing home were at a news conference held today by Hollywood police. Police Chief Chris O'Brien thanked them for their patience in waiting for the results of a nearly two-year investigation.
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CHRIS O'BRIEN: The families sitting here today should not have lost their loved ones in this way. They placed their faith and trust in the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, its medical and administrative staff, and that trust was betrayed.
ALLEN: When Hurricane Irma hit in September of 2017, the nursing home in Hollywood didn't lose power, but it did lose its air conditioning. The storm knocked out the facility's AC units. Over the next three days, staff placed fans and portable coolers throughout the nursing home, but the temperatures inside kept rising.
On Wednesday, three days after the storm, the first patient died, and 911 was called. Within a few hours, seven more died. Other deaths after the evacuation were also attributed to heat exposure. Ultimately, the medical examiner listed 12 of 14 deaths at the nursing home as homicides.
O'Brien took issue with claims that the nursing home staff did all they could under trying post-storm conditions.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
O'BRIEN: I can tell you they didn't do enough. These are trained professionals that should've been aware of the environmental hazards that were taking place in that facility, and they chose to ignore them.
ALLEN: The four people charged include administrator Jorge Carballo, nursing supervisor Sergo Colin and two nurses, Tamika Miller and Althea Meggie. Carballo and Colin face 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter. Miller faces six manslaughter charges, and Meggie two.
DAVID FRANKEL: These people are bewildered about why they are being accused of recklessly being indifferent to human life when all they were doing was trying to help.
ALLEN: David Frankel is an attorney representing nursing supervisor Sergo Colin. Frankel says conditions were stable inside the nursing home in the first two days after the storm, as staff placed spot coolers and worked to keep patients hydrated. During that time, he says, staff repeatedly contacted the state's emergency operations center and the power company, Florida Power & Light, seeking help to get their air conditioners back online. Frankel says staff also took up then Florida Governor Rick Scott on his offer to nursing homes and hospitals to call him directly with any problems.
FRANKEL: They called his cellphone more than 10 times, and he never called back.
ALLEN: Police say more arrests are likely.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Hollywood, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.