NEW ORLEANS — The owner of seven Southeast Louisiana nursing homes shut down by the state after an ill-fated evacuation from Hurricane Ida to a warehouse in Independence is contesting those license revocations and gearing up for a fight if any criminal allegations are lodged.
John McLindon, attorney for nursing home owner Bob Dean, said the initial reports about conditions at the warehouse and Dean’s handling of the evacuation “have been greatly exaggerated.”
Attorney General Jeff Landry, as well as Gov. John Bel Edwards, vowed criminal investigations of the evacuation and Dean’s nursing homes amid the chaotic evacuation of about 840 patients, seven of whom died.
Days after the Ida made landfall, state officials responded to 911 calls and found the patients jammed into a leaky and sweltering warehouse that was running short on water, food and toilet facilities. The warehouse is also owned by Dean.
In a telephone interview Friday, McLindon admitted that conditions at the building deteriorated, but said the situation was largely under control given the scope of the disaster.
“In a very prudent move, Mr. Dean moved the patients to his other facility,” McLindon said. “Did garbage stack up outside? Absolutely. Did it get picked up? No, because there was a hurricane.”
“Some water got into the building, but the report of five to eight inches is greatly exaggerated,” he said.
As for the seven deaths, McLindon said the patients were in hospice and already in poor health.
“From what I’ve learned, the people who died were on hospice,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any causal connection between those deaths and the evacuation.”
The state Department of Health led the raid of the Independence warehouse, evacuating the patients in a caravan of ambulances and placing them in hospitals and other nursing homes across the state. McLindon said the evacuation was unnecessary.
“On any given day, there are maybe ten 911 calls from inside those nursing homes. That happens with patients like that,” he said. “When you dig down into the details, all of that was greatly exaggerated.”
“Everybody says they would have done better. But Mr. Dean believes those patients never needed to be evacuated. We don’t even know where those patients are now.”
McLindon, a Baton Rouge criminal defense attorney hired by Dean after the announcement of criminal probes, added, “I’m confident that nobody has seen anything that is criminal.”
McLindon said he has been in regular contact with officials from the AG’s office and they have been “working together and sharing information.”
“We email and text every day,” McLindon said.
The attorney said investigators with the AG’s office are currently seeking interviews with employees of Dean’s nursing homes, some of whom worked inside the Independence warehouse.
That request has been complicated by the fact that “some of them have hired their own attorneys” and others no longer work for Dean, he said.
“I know that AG is knocking on doors to talk to people.”
McLindon said Dean will file an appeal of the license revocations before the Oct. 6 deadline. He said the matter will be heard by an administrative law judge in Baton Rouge.
Meanwhile, McLindon said the nursing homes are finalizing a process for patients and their families to retrieve belongings left behind in the nursing homes.
“We worked out a process yesterday for patients and their families to contact me directly. We’ve been on top of that from Day 1,” he said. “We will eventually have an administrator to help with that.”
At least five civil lawsuit have been filed by people who claimed to sustain damage. To handle the suits, McLindon said Dean has hired a civil attorney from Virginia who specializes in nursing homes.
The seven nursing homes that were shut down are Maison DeVille Nursing Home in Terrebonne Parish; South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab in Lafourche Parish; Maison Orleans Healthcare Center and River Palms Nursing and Rehab in Orleans Parish; and Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home, West Jefferson Health Care Center and Maison DeVille Nursing Home of Harvey in Jefferson Parish.