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Bob Dean, the nursing homes' owner, has previously been cited by state officials for evacuating patients to a facility he owned that proved to be inadequate.
Louisiana Health Officer Joseph Kanter, MD, MPH, on Saturday ordered the immediate closure of seven nursing homes that evacuated patients to a warehouse on August 27 as Hurricane Ida bore down southeast Louisiana. Conditions deteriorated in the warehouse and seven patients died; five deaths have been declared storm-related, according to a statement from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).
The warehouse, located in Independence, La., is located in Tangipahoa Parish, which is north of New Orleans and about 100 miles from where Hurricane Ida made landfall. The nursing homes that evacuated were in Orleans, Jefferson, Lafourche, and Terrebonne parishes, all south of Lake Pontchartrain.
All patients taken to the warehouse have since been relocated, following an inspection that was temporarily blocked by the nursing homes' owner, who also owned the warehouse. Bob Dean, the owner, has previously been cited by state officials for evacuating nursing home patients to a facility he owned that proved to be inadequate.
State officials told the Associated Press that water got into the warehouse and generators failed. Meanwhile, tipsters told officials of patients being left on mattresses on the floor without food or clean clothes. Strong odors of feces permeated the building, and conditions declined rapidly as more patients arrived and owners tried to fit them into an increasingly crowded building. Trash and bags of human waste piled up, according to a nurse who spoke with a local TV reporter.
LDH has now confirmed 7 deaths of nursing home residents evacuated to the Independence facility, 5 of which have been classified as storm-related. State law enforcement officials have called for a criminal investigation, and LDH is reaching out to families of the nursing home residents.
The seven nursing homes that evacuated to the warehouse in Independence include:
“What happened in Independence is reprehensible, and I know there are many families hurting as a result,” said LDH Secretary Courtney N. Phillips, PhD, MPA. “Today’s action against these facilities is needed. There is more to come. Our department’s mission is to advance the health and wellbeing of our residents—and that includes our vulnerable nursing home residents.”
“The lack of regard for these vulnerable residents' wellbeing is an affront to human dignity,” Kanter said. “We have lost trust in these nursing homes to provide adequate care for their residents. We are taking immediate action today to protect public health.”
Reports of the deteriorating conditions at warehouse after Hurricane Ida made landfall prompted LDH inspectors to visit the site, but they were blocked from making a full inspection August 31 and “subject to intimidation by the owner of the seven nursing facilities,” according to state officials.
LDH and other state and local agencies returned September 1 to evacuate local residents and all had been relocated by September 2.
For several days, Louisiana news outlets have covered the evacuation of the warehouse and history of issues with Dean's nursing homes. He has been described as a previously active political donor who more recently has become isolated among the state's powerful network of nursing home operators. News reports said Dean’s nursing homes received poor quality ratings from Medicare before the recent evacuation, which the website nola.com said was a part of a plan on file with the state following the deaths of fragile, elderly patients in floodwaters during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
A 2005 investigation by The Times-Picayune found that five patients had died at nursing homes he owned due to poor care. News outlets report attempts to reach Dean have been unsuccesful.