Louisiana probing deaths of 4 evacuated nursing home residents

New Orleans — Louisiana officials launched an investigation into the deaths of four nursing home residents who had been evacuated to a warehouse ahead of Hurricane Ida, as state residents struggling in the wake of the storm sought financial relief and other help amid small signs of recovery.

The nursing home residents who died were among what CBS New Orleans affiliate WWLL-TV says were more than 800 people from seven nursing homes taken to the warehouse in Independence. Conditions in the warehouse became unhealthy and unsafe after the hurricane struck on Sunday, state health officials said. A coroner classified three of the deaths as storm-related.

WWL said 14 of the residents were hospitalized.

Health officials received reports of people lying on mattresses on the floor, not being fed or changed and not being socially distanced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is currently ravaging the state, Louisiana Department of Health spokesperson Aly Neel said.

When a large team of state health inspectors showed up on Tuesday to investigate the warehouse, the owner of the nursing homes demanded that they leave immediately, Neel said.

Neel identified the owner as Bob Dean. Dean didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a telephone message left by The Associated Press at a number listed for him.

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The Waterbury Companies warehouse in Independence, Louisiana where more than 800 nursing home residents were brought when evacuated ahead of Hurricane Ida. WWL-TV

WWL says it appears the same person owns the warehouse and the seven nursing homes.

One worker at the facility told WWL cots were piled on each other on the ground. At one point, the station reports, water came into the building and some of the residents had to be moved.

The worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no privacy to take care of residents and there weren’t enough people working to take care of all of them. 

Louisian Governor John Bel Edwards said he was sure staffers were trying to give “the very best care” but conditions were so bad that they never stood a chance.

“The fact that it wasn’t possible to do better by them shows that they really shouldn’t have stayed where they were,” Edwards said.

Residents could be seen Thursday being taken from the warehouse to waiting ambulances on stretchers and in wheelchairs, according to WWL. It wasn’t clear where the ambulances were headed, but many of the residents likely needed medical evaluation before being transported to another facility, the station said.

Family members started showing up at the warehouse after seeing the conditions their loved ones were in on WWL. They said they never got a call or any kind of message from the nursing homes, but instead had to find out from the news.

Edwards said it took less than 24 hours to get all the patients out of the warehouse.

He promised a full investigation into whether the owner “failed to keep residents safe and whether he intentionally obstructed efforts to check in on them and determine what the conditions were in the shelter.” And he vowed “aggressive legal action” if warranted.

Louisiana Department of Health officials told WWL they would be looking at referring charges to the appropriate law enforcement agencies in regards to conditions at the home.

Biden to view storm damage

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage after promising full federal support to Gulf Coast states and the Northeast, where the remnants of Ida dumped record-breaking rain and killed at least 43 people from Maryland to Connecticut.

At least 13 deaths were blamed on the storm in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including the three nursing home residents and two 19-year-old utility employees who were electrocuted Tuesday as they were restoring power near Birmingham, Alabama. Authorities blamed several other deaths on carbon monoxide poisoning.

About 900,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana, including much of New Orleans, remained without power and tens of thousands had no water in the midst of a sultry stretch of summer. Efforts continued to drain flooded communities, and lines for gas stretched for blocks in many places from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.