Louisiana nursing home owner defends care in warehouse where four people have died


INDEPENDENCE, Louisiana – Empty wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and dirty masks were stacked outside a warehouse on Friday morning, the only signs remaining that more than 800 of New Orleans’ most vulnerable people were transported there by bus as a powerful hurricane destroyed – and then rescued from misery this week by state officials who have vowed to investigate.

Residents of seven private retirement homes had been evacuated to the warehouse before Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in Louisiana in the form of an intense Category 4 storm on Sunday. Complaints of unsanitary conditions quickly followed. Four people died there, including three whose deaths were classified by state officials as related to the storm.

Authorities identified the three victims as a 59-year-old woman from Jefferson Parish and two men, a 52-year-old man from Orléans Parish and a 77-year-old from Terrebonne Parish.

The nursing homes from which residents were originally evacuated belong to Bob G. Dean Jr., a businessman from Baton Rouge. Efforts to reach Mr. Dean were not immediately successful. Corn in an interview with WAFB, a local television station, he suggested the death toll was not atypical.

“We only had five deaths in six days, and normally with 850 people you will have two a day, so we took very good care of people,” Dean told the TV station.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr Dean was referring to another death at one of his nursing homes in addition to the four people who died after being moved to the Independence warehouse.

He also claimed in the television interview that state investigators illegally entered the warehouse site on Tuesday before being deported.

“The Fourth Amendment says they have to have a warrant to enter private property, let alone seize people or property, so they came illegally,” Dean said.

Mr. Dean has owned and operated nursing homes in Louisiana for decades and has accumulated a long history of disputes over security issues and legal battles over its operations.

In a 1998 episode Similar to this week’s tragedy, two residents of a nursing home died after being evacuated in buses without air conditioning to a warehouse in Baton Rouge owned by Mr. Dean as Hurricane Georges approached. He appealed a state fine of $ 1,500 related to the death during this evacuation of an 86-year-old woman who had a heart attack; he succeeded in reducing the fine to $ 1,000 when a judge determined that his company was not responsible for his death.

Outside the Independence warehouse on Friday, Louisiana State Police soldiers entered and exited in SUVs and put yellow tape to prevent people from entering. Cartons remained spread out on the wet ground next to an exit, as if to create a dry path in the mud for those leaving the facility. Labels on the broken down boxes said they were intended for hospital beds, easy-to-make oats, and frozen bread. They sat next to a half-empty liter of milk, blue surgical gloves, and crumpled water bottles.

Many neighbors wondered why residents of the nursing home were taken to what turned out to be one of the hardest-hit areas in the state.

In the neighborhoods around the warehouse, Ida’s winds had blown away the siding of mobile homes, pushed tall trees through rooftops and knocked over branches on power lines, sending flared electrical wires through the streets. A sign welcoming Independence visitors was surrounded by broken trees near the base of their trunks.

Longtime residents said the warehouse was once used as a storage facility and was later used to make spray cans before largely sinking, although they said it was still sometimes used to store emergency supplies.

People who sat in the aisles and on porches in the sweltering heat nearby said they had no idea that hundreds of nursing home residents had been bused to the warehouse to ‘until Wednesday, when dozens of buses lined up to take them to hospital after state officials began to fear conditions inside were dangerous.

One block from the warehouse, Lillian Danna, 92, who lives alone, weathered the storm in the same house she has lived in since the 1950s. Friday, as she used a hose to remove debris from her driveway, she described discovering that the storm had ravaged her neighborhood. She woke up Monday after the storm when it was still dark and without electricity. She grabbed the flashlight she keeps by her bed and tried to see her backyard, where she has a shed, but it was too hard to see clearly.

“I couldn’t see the hangar,” she said, “but I knew something was wrong.”

When the day came, she discovered that a large tree had crushed the small structure, leaving her devastated by the damage but thanking God that he did not touch her house. It was hours before the wind calmed down, finally allowing him to open his door.

“If he had fallen on my house he probably would have killed me,” she said.

A few nights later, she was baffled by the dozens of vehicles – shuttles, motorhomes and buses – filling the neighborhood, keeping neighbors awake through the night as residents of the nursing home were brought to safety.

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