NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Conditions deteriorated at a warehouse housing evacuated nursing home patients, five of whose deaths were linked to Hurricane Ida, because widespread and unexpected storm damage interrupted essential services, the nursing homes' owner says.
Days after Ida’s Aug. 29 landfall, the state Department of Health found the warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish, north of New Orleans, filthy and unsafe and moved more than 800 patients to facilities around Louisiana. It canceled the licenses Sept. 7.
State health officials cited cruelty or indifference, neglect, and failure to report neglect among several reasons for revoking Bob Dean's seven nursing home licenses.
“There was no cruelty or indifference to the welfare of any of the residents,” attorney John S. McLindon wrote in a letter asking the Louisiana Department of Health to restore the licenses. “The nursing facilities were in substantial compliance with the nursing facility licensing laws, rules, and regulations."
Department spokeswoman Aly Neel said Friday that the active investigation kept her from commenting on Dean's letter, which McLindon filed Wednesday and made available Thursday afternoon.
She referred a reporter to the department's previous statements, including the revocation letters.
Dean’s letter doesn’t respond to allegations that he lied about a matter under investigation, during what the department described as “a campaign of threats, intimidation and attempts” to derail its work.
Dean sent inspectors and other officials text messages that were “vile, repulsive, and lacking any professionalism or basis in fact,” the state said.
“I cannot find the statements that they claim are false. If I could find them I might be able to provide a response,” McLindon said in a telephone interview.
Dean also ordered an inspector out of the building on Aug. 31, the day before the state took over operations there, the revocation letters said.
The seven nursing homes evacuated residents to three associated buildings in the town of Independence, but moved them all into the strongest one when the storm made an “unexpected turn East and headed straight for Independence,” according to the appeal.
Dean's letter argues that problems after Ida were caused by loss of portable toilet maintenance and other essential services due to widespread storm damage in the area.
“Because of the damage throughout Tangipahoa Parish many services which the facility was relying upon were stopped,” McLindon wrote. “Garbage was not picked up and the landfill was closed. The linen service was unable to come to the facility to pick up linens. The port-o-let service was unable to come and empty the port-o-lets.”
In addition, the appeal says, trees, power lines and other debris on the roads kept workers who were living at home from returning to the warehouse.
Health department lawyer Stephen Russo called conditions after the storm “inhumane.” The building stank of urine and feces, trash was piled on the floor and some residents were lying on mattresses on the floor, without food or clean clothes, officials said.
Health department documents said some people were naked or wearing only dirty diapers. A man fighting for breath and yelling for help was ignored until an inspector pointed him out to a nurse, according to the documents.
More than 50 people were hospitalized.
Twenty-six patients have died since the evacuation, but coroners have classified only five deaths as storm-related, health department spokeswoman Mindy Faciane said in an email Friday.
McLindon said earlier that the first five patients to die all were receiving hospice treatment.
The health department did not immediately comment on whether any of those classified as storm-related were among the first five deaths. Nor did it immediately comment on how many coroners' reports it has received and how many deaths are still being investigated.
Even before the evacuation, Medicare.gov gave six of Dean's nursing homes the lowest possible rating, noting poor care in five.