Edwards administration scraps proposal for secret nursing home reports

Health department would have oversight of hurricane evacuation plans

By: - April 21, 2022 9:41 am
Nursing Home Scandal

Seven nursing homes owned by Bob Dean were shut down after it was discovered he had evacuated their residents to a warehouse he owns in Tangipahoa Parish. (Photo provided by WVUE/FOX 8 NOLA)

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has pulled a proposal that would require nursing homes to submit reports on their emergency responses to natural disasters after it faced criticism for suggesting a secretive review process. 

The Edwards administration had initially recommended those nursing home “after-event” reports be shielded from public release, but it dropped the obligation for a report altogether in a rewritten version of House Bill 933.

“There were some components of the bill that I was uncomfortable with,” said Rep. Joe Stagni, R-Kenner, who is carrying the legislation. 

The bill was also amended to give the Louisiana Department of Health responsibility for approving nursing home emergency response plans, an authority that no government agency claims to have right now. The House Health and Welfare Committee forwarded the legislation without objection Tuesday.

Health officials who work for the governor helped craft Stagni’s bill in the wake of the botched evacuation of seven southeast Louisiana nursing homes to an old pesticide warehouse for Hurricane Ida. The health department was forced to rescue more than 800 elderly and medically vulnerable people from the site in September. Fifteen people died in the aftermath, with at least five deaths attributed to the evacuation. 

The debacle raised questions about why the owner of the nursing homes, Bob Dean, had ever been allowed to move hundreds of residents to a warehouse in the first place. The health department has repeatedly responded to that criticism by saying the agency is required to “review” nursing home evacuation plans but is not responsible for “approving” them.

Stagni’s bill would make explicit that the health department is responsible for overseeing nursing home emergency plans. Under the legislation, health officials would be required to give nursing homes a letter stating their emergency plans had been approved or outlining the required changes needed for approval. 

If a nursing home did not make the required changes, the health department would issue a letter rejecting the plan, though the consequences for plan rejection are not spelled out in the bill.  

In addition to the health department, the state fire marshal, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Department of Transportation and Development, Louisiana Emergency Response Network and local emergency operations officials in the nursing home’s parish and the parish to which it is evacuating would also be given an opportunity to raise concerns about nursing home emergency plans in Stagni’s legislation. 

It’s unclear if anyone in government ever scrutinized the evacuation plans for Dean’s nursing homes closely.

Dean listed the warehouse as his evacuation site in documents he submitted to the health department in March 2021. Yet the warehouse didn’t have a kitchen or enough bathrooms and cots to accommodate the hundreds of people sent there for Hurricane Ida in August.

During the evacuation, state inspectors found nursing home residents lying on air mattresses on the ground in smelly, overcrowded conditions. Many were in soiled clothing and didn’t have enough to eat.

Victims and their families have filed lawsuits against both Dean and the state over the shape of the warehouse, and the health department in September revoked Dean’s seven lucrative nursing home licenses, an action Dean is fighting in court.  

Much of what a nursing home might be required to have at an evacuation site during a natural disaster in the future remains to be seen.  The health department is expected to create a new set of rules and regulations in the next few months based on recommendations from the Louisiana Nursing Home Emergency Preparedness Review Committee. 

Stagni’s bill expands that review committee from 17 to 24 members and increases the number of nursing home industry representatives from five to nine, giving the industry a more prominent voice on the panel.  The Louisiana Nursing Home Association, which represents nursing home owners, has repeatedly declined requests to comment on nursing home bills filed this year. 

“I don’t comment on legislation,” Mark Berger, the association’s executive director, told an Illuminator reporter after a legislative committee hearing Tuesday. 

Stagni’s proposed nursing home emergency plans review process is expected to cost the state $1.7 million for new health department technology to monitor nursing home emergency plans. The system would require an $175,000 maintenance fee annually as well, according to a legislative fiscal analysisThe health department also estimates it would have to spend $460,600 on four new employees to visit evacuation sites for 257 nursing homes twice each year. 

The full Senate has unanimously moved two other pieces of legislation on nursing home emergency policies. They will now be taken up by the House. 

Senate Bill 167, from Sen. Kirk Talbot of River Ridge, empowers the state fire marshal to approve or reject evacuation sites for nursing homes in Louisiana’s 22 most hurricane-prone parishes.  

Senate Bill 33, from Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, requires nursing homes to install generators that can power 50% of a facility’s air conditioning or heating system for 48 hours with fuel or electricity on site. The homes would also need contracts in place with fuel or electricity providers to service the generator for at least 168 hours after a disaster, under the legislation.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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