Four nursing home residents in Louisiana died and 14 were hospitalized after being evacuated during Hurricane Ida to a warehouse where conditions were later determined to be unhealthy and unsafe, state officials have said.
A total of 843 residents from seven nursing facilities – all operated by one owner – were moved to the Waterbury Companies warehouse in the town of Independence before Ida made landfall, Louisiana Department of Health spokesperson Aly Neel said.
Police said the warehouse had been set up to receive 300 to 350 people.
Neel said the health department received reports of people lying on mattresses on the floor, not being fed or changed and not being socially distanced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is currently ravaging the state.
When the hurricane hit, conditions quickly deteriorated, Neel said.
‘We know that water did enter the building,’ she said, adding that there were also problems with electricity generators.
Health officials said Thursday that they had launched an investigation into the facility.
Fourteen nursing home residents needed hospitalization after staying in a poorly-conditioned warehouse during Hurricane Ida
Senior residents lying on air mattresses on the floor inside Waterbury warehouse, while other reports included that measures weren’t put in place for social distancing
The conditions of the warehouse where more than 800 senior residents stayed during Hurricane Ida were determined to be unhealthy and unsafe
When a large team of state health inspectors showed up on Tuesday to investigate the warehouse, the nursing homes’ owner demanded that they leave immediately, Neel said.
Renetta Derosia and her sister Susan Duet came to the warehouse Thursday to check on their mother, Loretta Duet, who uses a wheelchair. Their voices choked with emotion, they questioned how their mother was treated.
‘We’re just getting word now how bad it was here,’ Derosia said. ‘We thought they would have been better taken care of. Had I known, I would have taken her with us.’
The sisters thought their mother, who had been living in a nursing home in Lafourche Parish, was being taken to another home with proper nursing beds when she was evacuated ahead of the hurricane, Derosia said.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said he’s ‘grieved by the situation.’
‘We´re going to do a full investigation into whether these facilities, the owner of the facilities, failed to keep residents safe and whether he intentionally obstructed efforts to check in on them and determine what the conditions were in the shelter,’ Edwards said.
Paramedics standby at a mass shelter next to a senior citizen who was crammed inside the Waterbury warehouse during Hurricane Ida
Wheelchairs lying next to the Waterbury warehouse, where senior citizens were kept in atrocious and disgraceful sanitary conditions during Hurricane Ida
‘And if warranted, we will take aggressive legal action against any responsible parties.’
Neel identified the owner of the nursing homes as Bob Dean.
The Medicare.gov website rates six of his seven nursing facilities with one star out of five, the lowest possible rating.
All of them are in Louisiana, named: River Palms Nursing, Rehab South Lafourche Nursing, Rehab Maison Orleans Healthcare Center, Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home, West Jefferson Health Care Center, Maison Deville Nursing Home and Maison DeVille Nursing Home.
Details of the four senior residents’ deaths are unknown due to state health inspectors being turned away from examining conditions at the warehouse facility
The remaining nursing home gets two stars, still considered below average. Five of the nursing homes specifically got one star for ‘quality of resident care,’ under the ranking system.
Independence Police Chief Frank Edwards told WVUE-TV that the warehouse was set up to receive 300 to 350 people, but the number quickly ballooned to more than 800.
The police chief confirmed that some residents were on air mattresses on the floor, that trash receptacles were too small and that there were some issues with the restrooms.
Health officials identified the owner of the nursing homes as Bob Dean
One of the six of Dean’s nursing facilities, Maison Orleans Healthcare Center, barely has more than one star out of five, the lowest possible rating, on Google and Medicare.gov
He said generators at the warehouse also stopped working a couple of times, and that in general, ‘conditions became unacceptable.’
‘I would not have wanted my mother or grandmother to be in those type of conditions,’ he said.
State health inspectors returned to the warehouse on Wednesday and began relocating residents.
Late Thursday, all had been evacuated and taken to hospitals, nursing homes and special needs shelters, said Dr. Joe Kanter, Louisiana´s chief medical officer.
‘It was a Herculean task to get this many people out and to safety in such a short period of time,’ Kanter said.
He said law enforcement officials were already onsite investigating.
Officials used ambulances and buses to transfer the residents, Neel said.
Early Thursday evening, 10 ambulances could be seen leaving the warehouse, located next to a water tower and about 50 yards from a railroad station.
A handful of wheelchairs were standing near the entrance to the warehouse.
Police Chief Edwards was hesitant to assign any blame, saying that it appeared as though ‘everybody was doing the best they could under the circumstances.’
Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards said ‘everybody was doing the best they could under the circumstances’, refusing to blame the owner of the four residents’ homes for putting up senior citizens in poor conditions
‘I have no idea what the situation or circumstances were when they evacuated all of those people,’ he said.
‘They may have been prepared for two nursing homes and had six more in danger. Let´s assume they had more to evacuate than they had planned for and they had to decide whether to move them to the facility they had or not evacuate them at all.’
But Sabrina Cox, who came to find out what happened to her aunt Bonnie Carenti, said someone should have called her family to let them know Carenti was at the warehouse.
She said her father lives five minutes away, and if the family had known, they could have done something to help.
‘To see this on the news and not even get a call four days in?’ Cox said. ‘This is unacceptable. Elderly people should not be treated like this. Nobody should be treated like this.’