Louisiana House votes to give health department authority over nursing home evacuation plans

By: - April 25, 2022 7:03 pm
Bob Dean warehouse

The Louisiana Department of Health removed nearly 850 nursing home residents from this warehouse in late August 2021 after nursing home owner Bob Dean transferred people there during Hurricane Ida. (Photo by Wesley Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

The Louisiana House voted 101-0 Monday (April 25) to give the Louisiana Department of Health oversight over nursing home emergency preparedness plans in the wake of the horrific evacuation of nearly 850 nursing home residents to an old pesticide warehouse for Hurricane Ida. The Senate will now take up the proposal.

House Bill 291, by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, allows the health department to approve or reject nursing home emergency plans, but it doesn’t spell out what the consequences would be for a rejected plan. 

The legislation is in response to nursing home owner Bob Dean’s evacuation of seven southeast Louisiana facilities to a warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish. The state was forced to rescue hundreds of 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.

At the warehouse, health 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.

Dean had told the health department he would evacuate residents to the warehouse for a natural disaster. He listed it as his evacuation site in documents he submitted to the state in March 2021. Yet the warehouse didn’t have a kitchen or enough bathrooms and cots to accommodate the hundreds of people sent there in August.

Lawmakers were aghast that the warehouse plan wasn’t flagged as insufficient before Ida hit. The health department responded to that criticism by saying it didn’t have authority over Dean’s evacuation plan. While the agency is required to “review” nursing home plans, it is not currently responsible for “approving” them, officials said.

Edmonds’ bill is supposed to change that dynamic by giving health officials more oversight. It is similar to two other pieces of legislation moving through the statehouse.

Rep. Joe Stagni, R-Kenner, is carrying a bill that would also give the health department authority over the emergency plans, but it involves several other state agencies and local parish officials in the approval process as well. The bill is awaiting a vote on the House floor.

Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, is carrying a bill to give the state fire marshal’s office more power to inspect nursing home evacuation sites ahead of a natural disaster. It passed the Senate and will now be taken up by the House.

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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.