Nursing home bills family of woman who died in sweltering heat

FILE- This Sept. 13, 2017, file photo, police surround the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, Fla. At first there was no hint of distress in the 911 calls, no sense of a crisis unfolding. But newly released emergency calls from the sweltering Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning to Hurricane Irma showed staffers becoming increasing agitated by a disaster that would eventually claim 14 elderly lives. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (WFLA) – Family members of a woman who died in a sweltering Florida nursing home made a shocking discovery when they checked her bank account last week.

The Sun Sentinel reports Albertina Vega was automatically charged $958 by the facility on what would have been her 100th birthday.

Vega was one of 14 people who died after the Hollywood Hills nursing home went without air conditioning for days after Hurricane Irma.

Carmen Fernandez, the wife of Vega’s cousin told the newspaper she went to the bank to close her account and realized Vega had no money. A $958 payment, posted on October 10, had resulted in an overdraft fee.

“How are they going to charge a dead person?” Fernandez said. “How is she going to pay that?”

“I was enraged. They let her die and then they bill her,” she said. “This was someone who was like a mother to me.”

A complaint was lodged with Vega’s bank.

A Hollywood Hills spokeswoman said Vega was reimbursed on Tuesday, but Fernandez said she was unaware of the reimbursement.

“Unfortunately, in this family’s case, this was an automatic deduction,” said Alia Faraj-Johnson, on behalf of Hollywood Hills. “Due to circumstances beyond the facility’s control and their lack of access to what they need— the computers in the system — the withdrawal automatically occurred.”

Fernandez said she wonders whether Hollywood Hills billed Medicaid for the government’s portion of the bill, and if this is an isolated case.

“The agency cannot comment on any inquiries related to a specific recipient due to federal and state privacy laws,” said Shelisha Coleman, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Agency For Health Care Administration, which regulates nursing homes. “The facility in question was suspended from the Medicaid program in September and therefore cannot charge Medicaid either directly or through Medicaid health plans.”

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