BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana health officials said Tuesday they are revoking the licenses of nursing homes that were evacuated to a warehouse where seven residents died amid deteriorating conditions deemed too squalid to be safe after Hurricane Ida.
The seven homes — all owned by one person — “clearly failed to execute their emergency preparedness plans to provide essential care and services to their residents,” Department of Health Secretary Courtney Phillips said in a statement.
Authorities found some nursing home residents lying on mattresses on the floor, without food or clean clothes, and detected strong odors of urine and feces throughout the warehouse, located in the town of Independence. Piles of trash were on the floor. Water entered the building, and generators at least temporarily failed, according to officials. Health department lawyer Stephen Russo called the conditions “inhumane.”
State health officials and Attorney General Jeff Landry have launched investigations into the deaths. A police official said the Tangipahoa Parish warehouse was equipped to handle 300 to 500 people but ultimately took in more than 800, all of whom were evacuated from the seven nursing homes before Ida roared ashore in southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29.
“When issues arose post-storm, we now know the level of care for these residents plummeted,” Phillips said. She added, “Ultimately, lives were lost. These were grandparents, neighbors and friends, and we know families are hurting.”
State health officials said the owner, Bob Dean, failed to contact them for help and threw inspectors from the agency off the property when they arrived to review the conditions onsite after receiving reports of problems. Still, authorities said they saw enough two days after the storm to warrant removal of the hundreds of people at the warehouse, and the evacuees were moved over two days to special needs shelters across the state and other locations. Some required hospitalization.
Dean has not responded to messages left by The Associated Press at multiple phone numbers listed for him and his businesses. But he defended the Ida evacuation in a phone interview with WAFB-TV last week.
“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 told the station.
Asked about Dean's comments, Russo replied: “I don't think anyone could reasonably reach that conclusion.”
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 criticized for poor “quality of resident care.”
Dean, a commercial developer, came under scrutiny in 1998 after an 86-year-old woman bused from one of his New Orleans-area nursing homes prior to a hurricane died waiting with hundreds of other elderly residents to be unloaded at a Baton Rouge shelter. News outlets at the time said the nursing home residents sat in a bus without air conditioning for hours, and then were placed in a building that fire officials said wasn’t suitable for a hurricane evacuation shelter.
Three days before revoking the nursing homes' licenses Tuesday, the health department ordered the facilities closed so residents couldn't be sent back. Of the seven deaths of residents reported by authorities, the health department considers five of them storm-related. Few details have been released about the deaths.
The health department said it has provided information about the nursing home evacuation and conditions at the warehouse to Landry's office and local and federal law enforcement agencies.