INDEPENDENCE, La. — Four nursing home residents and their representatives have filed a class-action lawsuit against real-estate mogul Bob Dean and the seven nursing homes he owns over the conditions at a warehouse in Independence, La. where they were brought ahead of Hurricane Ida.
Conditions in the warehouse were described as nightmarish, with residents crying out for help while lying on mattresses on the ground, in their own filth and without air conditioning, for days.
At least seven of those residents have died since Aug. 27, when the first of them were brought to the facility. More than a dozen were hospitalized for problems incurred there.
According to the lawsuit filed Monday in Jefferson Parish, "it is likely that additional deaths and hospitalizations of residents will occur as a direct and proximate result" of being in the warehouse.
Despite the seven nursing homes' evacuation plans being cleared by the Louisiana Department of Health, the residents claim in the lawsuit that the warehouse, known as the Waterbury Building, was ill-equipped to handle anywhere close to the number of people who arrived — especially given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
LDH rescued 843 residents from the facility on Sept. 1 and 2, days after the storm had passed. In the five days between when the first residents began arriving and when LDH took over the facility and began evacuating them to shelters across the state, dozens of 9-1-1 calls came in from residents and staff members.
"As residents began to arrive, it was immediately clear there was insufficient space and beds for the large and excessive number of residents that (Dean) chose to evacuate to the Waterbury Building," the lawsuit contends. "As a result, some residents were forced to sleep in their wheelchairs or other chairs they could find. Some residents were forced to sleep on, or at least lie down on, the concrete floors."
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According to both interviews with the people inside and the legal documents filed on their behalf, there were simply not enough nurses and other staff members to care for more than 800 seniors.
And the troubles only compounded after the storm. One of the buildings where they were housing some of the residents flooded as Ida passed overhead
"Due to the water intrusion, a number of residents were on mattresses that began to float in the water," according to the lawsuit. Terrified seniors were then taken to other areas in the facility and crammed into already cramped and privacy-absent rooms with hundreds of others in putrid conditions.
"The (smells) emanating from the port-a-lets became putrid, to the point that staff members and residents alike would uncontrollably vomit and heave when sensing the odors, noxious vapors and fumes off-gassing in the area," the lawsuit contents.
Photos embedded in the legal document show piles of trash on the ground outside the warehouse, as well as a sea of mattresses on the floor with little room between them.
Scenes from the Independence warehouse where residents claim nightmarish conditions
A separate video obtained by WWL-TV shows water pouring in and soaking mattresses. Residents and nursing home staff say this was part of the flooding that forced the hasty evacuation of part of the facility into other wings.
In a phone interview with our partners at the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate, Bob Dean defended his company's actions and downplayed the deaths at the facility.
“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 during the call.
He also defended the decision to cram more than 800 seniors 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.
The state of Louisiana has already yanked the licenses for the seven nursing homes, meaning they will not be able to bring residents back after the storm or admit any new patients.
The legal fallout from the deadly Independence situation is likely just beginning, with other families likely to file lawsuits in the coming days.
State officials including Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry have called for thorough investigations into how the situation was allowed and how it could have deteriorated so quickly.