Ida blamed for several nursing home resident deaths

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 4:06 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 5:06 PM CDT
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INDEPENDENCE, La. (WVUE) - At least four elderly people evacuated from Louisiana nursing homes and crammed into a temporary warehouse shelter without beds as Hurricane Ida approached have died, state and local officials said Thursday. But the local police chief overseeing the jurisdiction told WVUE in an exclusive interview that he isn’t certain an investigation is necessary.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Tangipahoa Parish President Robby Miller decried the treatment of the seniors, and three of the deaths have been classified as storm-related by the parish coroner. They said they had called for inspections of the temporary shelter where the seniors were brought on Aug. 27, after hearing reports of squalid conditions, but that they were turned away and expelled from the property.

The LDH said it has been working to relocate 843 nursing home patients, starting with the most vulnerable, who were evacuated from seven assisted-living facilities in Orleans, Jefferson, Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. According to records held by the Louisiana Secretary of State, each of the facilities is operated by New Orleans businessman Bob Dean.

Identities of the deceased seniors and the days of their deaths were not immediately disclosed.

“We are terribly sorry about this, especially to the families who lost their loved ones,” Miller said. “We had no authority or jurisdiction over this. But red flags went up when we first heard it was supposed to be 200 people or 300 people and next thing we knew it was 800. We were the ones who called the Department of Health and the fire marshal and tried to get this looked at.

“I want to be clear: This was not something permitted by the parish. This was a person who chose Independence as this backup location. It’s not ours at all.”

The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office said the Independence Police Department would be the agency in charge of investigating the deadly situation. In an interview with WVUE, Independence Police Chief Frank Edwards said he had not concluded an investigation was needed.

“I’m not aware of an investigation. ... I don’t mean to be crass, but under the circumstances those numbers (at least four dead) do not strike me as being unusual,” Edwards said. “I’m not apologizing for anyone. I was there, and I wouldn’t have wanted my mother or grandmother to be in those conditions. I just don’t think with the resources I have right now that an investigation would be the best way of using them.”

When pressed by WVUE, Edwards insisted, “I am not OK with this. But I was in the Army and there’s a saying that all plans go astray once the first shot is fired. Whatever the facts are now will still be the facts next week. I see no need at this time to be pointing fingers.”

Miller said that even with more than 800 evacuees, the facility was still under capacity by state shelter rules.

“But it was the conditions that concerned us,” Miller said. “There weren’t beds, there were mattresses on the floor. People were not spread out as they should have been. We wouldn’t have wanted our family members or anyone’s family members in there. ... These people need all the care and concern that the actual nursing home has.”

The LDH said it was troubled by the reports of the squalid conditions and attempted to assess the situation on Tuesday.

“Upon hearing reports of deteriorating conditions at the facility after Hurricane Ida made landfall, LDH inspectors promptly visited the site but were expelled from the property and prevented from conducting a full assessment on Tuesday,” the LDH said in a statement.

“We have significant concerns about conditions in this facility.”

Miller said it was his understanding that many of the evacuees were being moved again Thursday to a safer location in Alexandria. He also said he believes Dean needs to be held accountable.

“We were very clear to him that something had to change” in the facility, Miller said. “It’s shameful. And he shouldn’t be allowed to be in this business any more.”

WVUE is attempting to reach Dean for comment.

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