INDEPENDENCE, La. — Following the deaths of seven patients amid the ill-fated evacuation of more than 800 others, the Louisiana Department of Health Tuesday announced it has shut down seven nursing homes that moved its residents to a cramped and leaky warehouse in Independence, La. to ride out Hurricane Ida.
The state said it had notified the owner that his licenses were revoked and their Medicaid agreements had been terminated.
“The situation at the site was clearly and rapidly deteriorating,” LDH wrote in its notice to the nursing homes owner, Bob Dean Jr.
Descriptions from people inside the warehouse depict hot, overcrowded conditions in which patients were crying out, some making 911 calls, while caregivers ran out of food and water as portable toilets overflowed and waste accumulated in bags stacked in a corner.
“While this was going on, the facility’s owner, rather than reaching out for help…was orchestrating a campaign with the goal of preventing a proper assessment of what the situation was at the site via threats, harassment and intimidation,” LDH wrote.
Just prior to the announcement Tuesday afternoon, Dean downplayed the deaths – now up to seven patients – and defended his company’s actions.
“I usually lose two to three people a day that pass on. So that four out of the five that passed in fact were hospice patients. Which you know are people who are on their way out,” Dean said in a phone interview with our partners at The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate.
In the call, Dean not only downplayed the five deaths, but he also defended the decision to cram them into a leaky and poorly equipped warehouse in Independence that he owns.
“In a contained open area we actually can give better care because you can see everyone,” Dean said.
Courtney Thomas, the daughter a patient who lived at the River Palms nursing home in Algiers, said she assumed her 70-year-old mother was in safe hands after she signed an evacuation agreement in 2020.
The written notice provides a basic outline of an emergency plan. The letter, which requested family contact information, states that “in the event of an emergency, we have agreements with an alternate care facility to provide care for our residents until we can safely return to our facility location.”
Thomas signed off on the plan for her mother Myrtis Johnson, saying she was assured by the language about an alternate care facility.
“If I had known it was a warehouse, a storage warehouse, I never would have signed that paper,” she said.
Thomas said she called a caregiver inside the Independence warehouse and she was assured that everybody was safe and well-cared for. But accounts from state officials, verified by nurses who were at the warehouse, painted a very different picture.
The descriptions – along with video shot from inside the warehouse – reveal deteriorating conditions that began with patients crammed together on mattresses on the floor, following by shortages of food and water as the patients cried out.
A new video obtained by WWL-TV on Tuesday shows one section of the warehouse flooded with several inches of water, with supplies stacked along the walls. One nurse said the patients in that area had to be moved to other areas, making the crowded conditions even worse.
VIDEO SHOWS WATER inside of nursing home warehouse in Independence, Louisiana.
Thomas said that after WWL-TV broke the story about the state rescuing patients from the facility, she tried frantically to find her mother, who suffers from dementia.
“Nobody could ask her who she is and she'd be able to tell them. So she could have been a Jane Doe in a morgue,” Thomas said. “It was the worst night. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be emotional.
The family finally found Johnson safe at a nursing home in Bossier City.
A short time before he was shut down by the state, Dean spoke about state regulators.
“Bureaucrats will think and do things differently. And they flip out,” he said.
In its announcement that it is shutting down the nursing homes, LDH Secretary Dr. Courtney N. Phillips states, “All of these nursing facilities clearly failed to execute their emergency preparedness plans to provide essential care and services to their residents. When issues arose post-storm, we now know the level of care for these residents plummeted.”
“An emergency preparedness plan is more than just a form of paper compliance. The implementation must accomplish the goals it is designed to meet. Some of those goals include the delivery of essential care and services to residents, the procedures for ensuring that all residents have access to licensed nursing staff, and that services are provided, during all phases of the evacuation, including transporting of residents. […] it is clear that the facility failed in this regard,” reads the notice to nursing facilities of the revocation of their licenses.
Previously, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced criminal investigations of the company’s treatment of the patients during the emergency.
The seven homes owned by Dean are:
- River Palms Nursing and Rehab, Orleans Parish
- South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab, Lafourche Parish
- Maison Orleans Healthcare Center, Orleans Parish
- Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home, Jefferson Parish
- West Jefferson Health Care Center, Jefferson Parish
- Maison De Ville Nursing Home, Terrebonne Parish
- Maison Deville Nursing Home of Harvey, Jefferson Parish
Dean said the seven homes are what remains of the 35 he once owned. He said he is in the process of selling the remaining seven, with the deal scheduled to be completed in a month.