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Hurricane Ida causes disaster for Louisiana Nursing Homes

Hurricane Ida, the second most deadly and destructive storm to strike Louisiana, tore through the State last week, causing at least $50 billion in damage and lead to more than 100 direct and indirect deaths. Among those indirect deaths were at least four nursing home residents who were evacuated to a warehouse. As disturbing as that sounds, the Louisiana nursing home deaths, in this case, are, in fact, much worse.

As the storm approached, residents from seven nursing homes in Orleans, Jefferson, Lafourche, and Terrebonne Parishes, were hurried on to buses and taken to a warehouse more than 50 miles away to ride out the storm. It turns out that the owner of those seven nursing homes is a real estate developer who also owned the warehouse.

Once there, the evacuees were forced to live in squalid and unsanitary conditions. According to accounts, the warehouse was extremely hot, partially flooded, and reeked of urine. Residents stayed on mattresses laid across the floor. The building’s maximum occupancy was 700, but more than 850 nursing home patients were crammed in. Health inspectors who showed up to investigate the calls for help from residents were refused entry.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that nursing home residents left in such deplorable conditions started to expire. In a matter of days, five people died in the warehouse.

The nursing homes and warehouse owner defended his actions, saying that he spent more than $1 million on the evacuation and that the operation was ‘mostly successful.’ “We only had five deaths within the six days… normally, with 850 people, you’ll have a couple a day. So, we did really good on taking care of people.”

The State of Louisiana appears to disagree with that assessment. Yesterday, the Louisiana Department of Health revoked licenses of all seven nursing homes and was actively investigating the horrific conditions. Among the findings were that there were no toilets or port-a-potties available, so residents relieved themselves in five-gallon buckets. In addition, conditions inside the warehouse were described as dirty, loud, and extremely uncomfortable; food quality was described as ‘poor.’

Why did Hurricane Ida pose such a problem for Louisiana Nursing Homes?

Courtney Phillips, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health, stated the obvious: “When issues arose post-storm, we now know the level of care for these residents plummeted.”

The idea of moving residents from nursing homes to a secure warehouse to ride out the storm wasn’t necessarily bad. Indeed, plans were set up for staffing, food service, laundry, potable water, portable toilets, and a generator sized for the site. But, unfortunately, when those services failed to materialize, the nursing home owner chose not to reach out for help and failed to alert any of the State’s health agencies that a significant crisis was unfolding.

To get an idea of what hell looks like, check out the YouTube video one of the residents recorded and posted. Hundreds of people are shown lying on cots on the floor surrounded by wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, and general chaos. We can’t tell from watching the video, but the conditions inside the warehouse were sweltering and with poor ventilation. We can, therefore, only imagine how bad the air must have been.

More details from this epic disaster are likely to unfold in the coming days and weeks. Several family members representing nursing home residents filed a class-action lawsuit seeking injunctive relief and damages. The residents “endured horrific and inhumane conditions.” The lawsuit claims that the nursing home owner intentionally misrepresented the evacuation plan and chose not to inform family members of the evacuation or even tell them where their loved ones were being taken. When the electricity went out, which happened more than once, the backup generators failed to kick in, and oxygen concentrators stopped working. Oxygen tanks were moved in, but not enough and not in time for some unfortunate residents.

What more can be done to protect residents in Louisiana Nursing Homes?

CNN reports that it obtained call logs from 911 operators and found that of the 61 calls residents made, at least 30 were for assistance with critical medical issues. For example, some residents suffered seizures and stopped breathing. In addition, one resident who was diabetic needed immediate transport because they had “not eaten due to them having no more supplies.”

The Director of legal, audit and regulatory affairs for the Louisiana health department said, “The lack of adequate care for these residents is inhumane and goes against the rules, regulations, and applicable statutes.”

The saddest part of this entire fiasco is that the State of Louisiana knew that the operator of these nursing homes was doing a poor job. River Palms Nursing & Rehab in New Orleans was cited for 38 deficiencies in its most recent inspection. Maison Orleans had 20 deficiencies; West Jefferson had 18, and South Lafourche had 39, including one serious deficiency for which it was fined nearly $50,000. Nursing homes with poor track records and histories of serious quality issues that don’t meet standards are destined to fail under stress.

At this point, as news of the Louisiana nursing home disaster has become a national news story, authorities are saying all the right things. The Attorney General’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, the local Police Departments, and even the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit are reportedly all involved in investigating how the deaths occurred. In addition, the Governor of Louisiana promises that there will be an investigation.

Putting nursing home residents into an unsanitary warehouse in Louisiana is shocking. Still, it is part and parcel of the abuse and neglect we regularly see at nursing homes in Northern California. Disasters of all kinds happen periodically, whether they be epidemics, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, or fires. The goal of every nursing home should be to protect the fragile lives of residents and make every effort to plan for and mitigate eventual disasters. We can’t prevent natural disasters from happening, but we can surely make plans to deal with them and do everything possible to limit the loss of human life.

It’s safe to say that the nursing homes that are frequently cited for poor performance are the ones that are most likely to fail stress tests. Therefore, it behooves everyone with oversight of nursing homes to review health and safety records and take proactive steps to remove operators who violate state and federal standards flagrantly. The Hurricane Ida evacuation and the Louisiana nursing home deaths are poor positive that the system is broken and needs to be fixed before the next disaster hits.

Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse, nursing home abuse and wrongful death cases throughout California. For further information, please contact Wendy York today!