Louisiana health officials are inspecting unlicensed nursing home evacuation sites this month ahead of the start of hurricane season on June 1. (Canva image)
The Louisiana Department of Health is conducting additional inspection of all “unlicensed” emergency evacuation sites for nursing homes this month ahead of the June 1 start of hurricane season. The extra check is a precautionary measure after more than 800 nursing home residents had to be rescued from an evacuation site at a Tangipahoa Parish warehouse following Hurricane Ida.
While many nursing homes move their residents to similar facilities during emergency events, some rely on nonmedical buildings to provide temporary shelter. Thirteen of the 28 nursing homes evacuated during Hurricane Ida sent people to either a church, warehouse or open-air evacuation center for at least a few days.
Embattled nursing home owner Bob Dean infamously transferred residents from his seven southeast Louisiana facilities to a warehouse in Independence, where state inspectors say there wasn’t adequate food, staff or sanitation. Vulnerable people ended up lying in soiled clothing on air mattresses on the floor, and 15 of them died in the aftermath. At least five of those deaths were attributed to the botched evacuation.
Dean’s homes were subsequently shut down, though he’s suing the state to regain control over his licenses.
Besides Dean’s seven facilities, some residents from the Vermillion Health Care Center in Kaplan were evacuated to First Baptist Church of Winnfield for Hurricane Ida. St. Luke’s Living Center in New Orleans brought some of its residents to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church of Gulfport, Mississippi.
Residents from Riverbend Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Belle Chasse were taken to Magnolia United Methodist Church in Greenwell Springs, and The Broadway Elder Living and Rehabilitation Center in Lockport was evacuated to Amana Christian Fellowship in Vermilion Parish.
The Oaks of Houma in Houma and Audubon Health and Rehabilitation in Thibodaux went to the Medico Evacuation Center in Ville Platte, a large warehouse-like facility directly behind another nursing home, Heritage Manor.
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In addition to the extra inspections this month, the Louisiana Department of Health is reviewing emergency preparedness plans at all 98 nursing homes in Louisiana’s 22 hurricane-prone parishes. Some homes have already been asked to make changes to the plans, though the review isn’t finished yet, Courtney Phillips, the state’s health secretary, said last week.
Phillips also urged people with loved ones at nursing homes to ask ahead of hurricane season what the evacuation plan for the facility is. Families need to know where their loved ones are going ahead of a storm, she said.
This month’s inspections and reviews are a stop-gap measure while the state waits to see what type of changes Louisiana lawmakers make to the plan review and approval process. The Legislature is considering a few bills that would adjust how emergency preparedness plans are vetted in the wake of the Dean evacuation scandal.
It’s unclear whether Dean’s nursing home emergency plans were thoroughly studied ahead of Ida, though he had submitted copies of them to the Department of Health months before the storm hit.
The most comprehensive proposal, contained in House Bill 993, by Rep. Joseph Stagni, R-Kenner, cleared the Louisiana House in a 97-0 vote Tuesday and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The legislation would require nursing home emergency plan reviews from numerous state agencies, including the health department, state fire marshal and Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
State health officials would also explicitly have to approve or reject each plan – a power the health department doesn’t currently have. Nursing homes with rejected plans would not be able to get their licenses renewed, according to the legislation.
Though the bill has gotten overwhelming support so far, legislators have raised concerns about the $1.75 million estimated cost to purchase an electronic tracking system, initially required by the legislation, for nursing home emergency plans.
Health officials said the technology would help the department determine whether too many nursing homes were using duplicative vendors for food, water and transportation – an ongoing problem that could cause chaos if too many facilities had to be evacuated at once.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Gonzales, suggested nursing homes owners be assessed a fee to cover the cost of the electronic system. Instead, Stagni on Tuesday removed the electronic tracking system requirement from the legislation entirely.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has been a major benefactor of nursing home industry political donations, said he met with “most nursing home owners” last week to discuss some of the adjustments being proposed to the nursing home preparedness process.
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