As Hurricane Ida encroached on Louisiana ahead of its Aug. 29 landfall in the Bayou State, seven nursing homes operated by one man were evacuated, with their residents all going to a warehouse with poor conditions.
By Tuesday, Sept. 7, the state announced that it was revoking the nursing home licenses after seven people died in the makeshift refuge.
So far the tally is least a dozen people who were in the care of a nursing home or residing in a senior living facility during the devastating storm have died, although not all the deaths have been classified as related to the storm.
A statement on the Louisiana Department of Health website reads, “the Louisiana Department of Health alerted seven nursing homes that evacuated to a Tangipahoa facility ahead of Hurricane Ida that their licenses are being revoked and that their Medicaid provider agreements have been terminated.”
All of the nursing homes involved in the botched evacuation are owned by Bob Dean, a New Orleans businessman who also owned the warehouse used as a shelter.
Although the warehouse is supposed to hold about 300 people, more than 800 nursing home residents were crammed inside on Aug. 29 ahead of the storm. When state inspectors attempted to survey the facility in the days after Ida, they were turned away by Dean.
The facilities, all located in southern Louisiana, include River Palms Nursing and Rehab, South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab, Maison Orleans Healthcare Center, Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home, West Jefferson Health Care Center, Maison DeVille Nursing Home, and Maison DeVille Nursing Home of Harvey.
“All of these nursing facilities clearly failed to execute their emergency preparedness plans to provide essential care and services to their residents,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Courtney N. Phillips.
“When issues arose post-storm, we now know the level of care for these residents plummeted; an individual representing himself as the nursing home owner failed to communicate the situation; and then upon hearing reports from others that conditions at the facility had deteriorated our LDH surveyor was expelled from the property and LDH employees were subject to intimidation.
Ultimately, lives were lost — these were grandparents, neighbors and friends, and we know families are hurting. We as a Department are taking formal regulatory action.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has opened an investigation into the evacuations and associated deaths, seven of which happened after the transfer to the warehouse.
Several senior living facility residents in the New Orleans area who weren’t relocated before the storm died after they were left without electricity for days amid sweltering heat in the aftermath of Ida knocking out power in the region. Their bodies were discovered during wellness checks after the storm.
The Tangipahoa Parish warehouse had been assessed prior to the storm and deemed an appropriate place to shelter people according to predetermined plans for staffing, food service and laundry, potable water, portable toilets, and a working generator appropriately sized for the facility. However, authorities say the condition of the facility deteriorated following the storm but Dean failed to communicate the situation and request help.
Officials later found residents lying on mattresses on the floor without food or clean clothes. Piles of trash and the smell of urine and feces was also present throughout the warehouse. Water had entered the building and the generator failed at least once. The residents were transported to other facilities over a period of two days, and some needed to be hospitalized.
Speaking to WAFB-TV last week, Dean defended the handling of the situation. “We only had five deaths within the six days, and normally with 850 people you’ll have a couple a day, so we did really good with taking care of people,” he said.
Dean remained defiant in a statement to another outlet, “I usually lose two to three people a day that pass on. So that four out of the five that passed in fact were hospice patients. Which you know are people who are on their way out.”
Across nine states, Ida and the flooding and devastation it left in its wake has resulted in at least 72 deaths.
New Orleans City Council member Kristin Palmer said at a news conference that managers of senior living facilities are avoiding responsibility because of the “independent living” characterization of the facilities.
“They’re hiding under the loophole of ‘independent living,'” she said “It’s not independent living if there’s no power and you’re in a wheelchair on the fourth floor.”