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THE INVESTIGATORS: State yanks licenses of nursing homes under investigation for questionable evacuations

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 6:30 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The state says it will yank the license of seven nursing home facilities that evacuated nearly 900 people to a makeshift storm shelter in Independence where seven people later died. All of the facilities are owned by the same man and how several state agencies are investigating how everything happened.

The state decided to pull the plug on seven New Orleans area nursing homes to the warehouse in Independence ahead of Hurricane Ida. In a news conference Tuesday, Stephen Russo, the head of Legal, Audit and Regulatory Affairs for LDH, announced the actions taken against the facilities.

“It is the opinion of LDH that all seven facilities have failed to properly execute post-landfall emergency preparedness plans to provide essential care and services to their residents,” said Russo.

Those who rode out the storm inside the warehouse as Ida battered Louisiana have described nightmarish conditions with scarce food, little care and elderly residents jam-packed inside the warehouse on cots. Folks who spoke with the 9News Investigators say they were left to suffer for days.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” said Sean May.

“You had no way to go to the bathroom so if you couldn’t make it there, you had to...you went on yourself. I mean I was urinating on myself for four solid days because I couldn’t get to the bathroom,” Melanie Sieberth added.

Reports from LDH detail the glaring problems inside the warehouse, including that the facility had taken on 3-7 inches of water during the storm. that there were not enough beds inside and that there was a heavy smell of urine and feces throughout the facility. The action by the state comes just days after more than 800 of those residents were rushed to safety, with some being sent to shelters in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, officials were unable to step in before seven residents at the warehouse lost their lives and another 12 were taken to the hospital. Four of those deaths are related to the storm but the 9News Investigators wanted to get a better timeline of the state’s response as things went downhill.

“That is where the focus is now going to shift. What I can tell you is there’s nothing per se non-compliant or illegal about moving that large number of folks to a site as long as that site has enough food, water, linens, the basic necessities and basically the minimum necessary components to provide for the health, safety and welfare of those residents,” said Russo.

LDH initially went to check out the warehouse after the storm made landfall but officials say inspectors were told to get off the property. The 9News Investigators questioned officials on what happened after inspectors left.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked how long it took for LDH to return to the property after leaving during the initial inspection.

“We went back…umm it was reported back to state office and then a team was basically spooled up and sent back out the very next day because we knew at that stage we needed to get in there and commence rescue efforts,” said Russo.

WAFB was unable to find the owner of those homes at his downtown office last week but was able to catch up with him over the phone Thursday, September 2, 2021. When asked about the conditions inside the facility, Dean said overall, he did a good job.

“We only have five deaths within six days and normally with 850 people you’ll have a couple a day so we did really good with taking care of people,” Dean added.

“I don’t think anyone could reasonably reach a different conclusion that the standard of care for those residents who are our most fragile residents was not met,” Russo added.

The Attorney General’s Office has asked for the public’s help as they expand their investigation into what happened. Anyone with information that could help that investigation is asked to report it online at agjefflandry.com or by calling (888) 799-6885.

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