Louisiana investigating deaths of Ida nursing home evacuees

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Emergency personnel evacuate people at a mass shelter Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 in Independence, La. Multiple nursing home residents died after Hurricane Ida, but full details of their deaths are unknown because state health inspectors said Thursday that they were turned away from examining conditions at the facility to which they had been evacuated. (Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP)

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The owner of seven Louisiana nursing homes that were evacuated to a warehouse where four residents died after Hurricane Ida amid conditions deemed squalid faced criticism after a prior evacuation-related death two decades ago. He faces new calls for his nursing home licenses to be revoked.

State health officials have launched an investigation into the deaths at a warehouse facility in Tangipahoa Parish where 843 residents from seven nursing facilities operated by Bob Dean were sent before Ida roared ashore in southeast Louisiana. Attorney General Jeff Landry said Friday that his office has started its own review of the evacuation decisions.

AARP Louisiana pushed for the nursing homes involved to lose their licenses, calling the deaths of the residents “the result of a complete failure of oversight, enforcement and planning.”

“It’s a privilege to hold a nursing home license. It’s time to take it away from the facilities involved in this tragedy,” Denise Bottcher, Louisiana state director for AARP, said in a statement.

The hundreds of nursing home evacuees who survived were spread out Friday at shelters and hospitals across the state after the Louisiana Department of Health determined the Waterbury Companies Inc. warehouse wasn’t safe for the evacuees after the storm.

Department spokesperson Aly Neel said water entered the building and generators failed at least temporarily, and the state received reports of people left on mattresses on the floor, without food or clean clothes and with strong odors of feces in the building. But when a team of state health inspectors arrived Tuesday to investigate the warehouse, the nursing homes’ owner demanded they leave immediately, Neel said.

Despite the resistance, the state arrived with buses and ambulances to remove the residents, working Wednesday and Thursday to get them out of the warehouse and to safety, Neel said.

The coroner has classified three of the four deaths at the warehouse storm-related, according to the health department: the deaths of a 59-year-old female from Jefferson Parish, a 52-year-old male from Orleans Parish and a 77-year-old male from Terrebonne Parish. No other details have been released.

Dean, a commercial developer who owns multiple nursing homes around Louisiana, came under scrutiny in 1998 after an 86-year-old woman bused from one of his New Orleans area nursing homes died waiting with hundreds of other elderly residents to be unloaded at a Baton Rouge shelter. Local media reports at the time said the nursing home residents sat on an un-air-conditioned bus for hours, and then were placed in a building that fire officials said wasn’t suitable for a hurricane evacuation shelter.

A series of stories by the Times-Picayune in 2005 documenting neglect at nursing homes around the state singled out conditions at some of Dean’s facilities, describing a brain-damaged resident at one site drowning unattended in a whirlpool bath and another woman who was hospitalized after being swarmed by ants that ate away part of her skin.

The nursing home owner didn’t respond to messages left by The Associated Press at multiple phone numbers listed for him and his businesses. But Dean defended the Ida evacuation in a phone interview with WAFB-TV.

“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.

Even before the evacuation, Dean’s nursing facilities and their quality of care received poor federal ratings based on inspections. Medicare.gov gives six of the seven nursing homes the lowest possible rating, and five of the sites were specifically dinged for poor “quality of resident care.”

About 220 nursing home evacuees from the Tangipahoa warehouse site were being housed at a special needs shelter in a civic center in northwest Louisiana’s Bossier City.

“They are well cared for right now. And they’ll stay that way until we can safely send them back,” said Dr. Edward Mayeaux, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs at LSU Health Shreveport, which is helping to provide medical care on site.

Mayeaux said the evacuees arrived in some instances without their medicine and unable to tell doctors and nurses about their medical conditions. They hadn’t had food in hours. But they arrived on air conditioned buses after an hours-long journey mainly in good spirts, Mayeaux said.

“They were, for the most part, happy to be at someplace that was cool, where people were helping them out,” he said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards promised “aggressive legal action” if the investigation found Dean failed to keep residents safe and “intentionally obstructed” the state’s efforts to check conditions at the warehouse evacuation site. Landry, a Republican who regularly spars with the Democratic governor, pledged his own separate investigation.

The Department of Health said Friday that two dozen nursing homes have been evacuated from parishes hard-hit by Ida. Edwards noted a day earlier that other facilities that evacuated had moved their residents safely.

“None of the others are experiencing these issues,” he said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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