NEW ORLEANS — The fallout continued Friday from the four deaths and frantic rescue of more than 800 nursing home patients from a crammed and leaky warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish.
Attorney General Jeff Landry joined Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier call for a criminal investigation into the owner of the nursing homes and the ill-fated decision to cram them into a warehouse in Independence owned by the same businessman, Bob Dean.
The reaction from the state’s highest officials came quickly after the story was first published by WWL-TV. In another exclusive, Channel 4 obtained a full account of the harrowing ordeal inside the warehouse from a nurse who was there as conditions deteriorated.
The account from licensed practical nurse Natalie Henderson is both horrifying and heartbreaking. Henderson works at one of Dean’s nursing homes, Maison De’Ville in Houma. She said the problems began with the sudden decision to move her entire facility with almost no advanced notice.
“They didn't really tell me they had a plan,” Henderson said. “They just said they were evacuating the people to Independence.”
Henderson said she had misgivings as soon as she entered the poorly equipped building. And once the Category 4 started unleashing its destruction, conditions went from bad to worse.
“One of the parts of the warehouse started leaking water,” she said. “So, they had to start moving patients from that part of the warehouse to the part where everybody was housed. We had to move the mattresses even closer together.”
Henderson said she and other health care workers were forced to sleep in their cars because of the overcrowded conditions. She said she did all she could for patients, but the cascade of problems quickly became overwhelming.
“There was trash full of urine and feces stacked in a corner,” she said. “The place just smelled horrible.”
Henderson's patients rapidly became frustrated and disoriented, and some faced declining vital signs as the heat and lack of sanitation increased. She described one instance in which a husband and wife were separated while patients were being shuttled around to accommodate newcomers.
“Some were hollering,” she said. “They were in pain. They were hungry. They were thirsty.”
Conditions quickly fell apart as the plan to shelter 300 patients kept changing until there were more than 800.
“They kept rolling in more residents. I'm like, ‘Oh my God.’ We had to keep pushing the residents tighter and tighter to fit everyone in…I was in tears. It was very overwhelming.”
Bob Dean and his companies own Maison Orleans in New Orleans as well as six other nursing homes in the region. All of them get consistently low ratings from the federal Medicare Nursing Home Compare website.
The monitoring agency shows that most of the facilities get one star out of five, a rating defined on the website as “much below average.”
WWL-TV has been reaching out to Dean or his representatives, but has not yet received a response.
In a press conference Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed dismay over the deaths and vowed to get to bottom of it.
“We're going to do a full investigation into whether the facilities, and the owner of the facilities, failed to keep residents safe,” Edwards said.
Landry weighed in Friday, saying his office is launching a full investigation through its Louisiana Department of Justice Division.
“This may be a long process; and we are all in the middle of a recovery from Hurricane Ida, which requires our attention,” Landry stated in a press release. “However, we must determine the facts surrounding these tragic deaths.”