Officials find problems with several more Louisiana nursing home evacuation sites

Health department can’t stop nursing homes from using the substandard sites

By: - August 12, 2022 6:00 am
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 Department of Health has concluded most of the “unlicensed” shelters that nursing homes from hurricane-prone parishes planned to use as evacuation sites are unfit for that purpose.

New information the agency released Thursday signals that Louisiana’s problems with nursing home hurricane preparedness extend beyond the now-shuttered operations of nursing home owner Bob Dean

Hundreds of nursing home residents in southeast Louisiana may be still at risk for evacuating to inadequate or unsafe shelters through the end of this hurricane season, according to limited data the health department provided. 

During inspections in May and June, health officials concluded eight of the 12 “unlicensed” evacuation sites for nursing homes in Louisiana’s 22 most hurricane-prone parishes were “not recommended.”

The four remaining “unlicensed” shelters also need upgrades but did not elicit “significant concerns,” according to a presentation made Thursday to the Nurshing Home Emergency Preparedness Review Committee.

The health department declined to release a list of the problematic evacuation shelters or the nursing homes that planned to use them.

The agency also said it cannot legally stop nursing homes from evacuating to these problematic locations until the middle of next year.

“If they still want to use those spots, they can,” said Stephen Russo, the health department’s director of legal, audit and regulatory affairs, in an interview. “I don’t believe we can proactively block it.”

 

Shortfalls of those “unlicensed” shelters include discrepancies between the facilities’ allowed occupancies and the number of people that nursing homes plan to put there. Nursing home owners often wanted to be able to house many more people in “unlicensed” shelters than those places can handle, Russo said. 

The sites also lacked kitchen equipment and generators. In some cases, roofs were leaking and floors had holes. At least one unnamed nursing home owner also had plans to evacuate residents to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park campground in Tangipahoa Parish if a storm came. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature enacted a new law this summer meant to tighten regulations on nursing home evacuation plans, but most of it won’t kick in until May 2023, right before the next hurricane season begins. 

For the rest of this hurricane season, Russo said the old nursing home regulations will remain in place – ones that state officials claimed tied their hands during the disastrous evacuation of Dean’s nursing home residents to a warehouse for Hurricane Ida

Last August, Dean moved nearly 850 people from his seven southeastern Louisiana nursing homes to an old pesticide building in Tangipahoa Parish without a working kitchen or enough restrooms. The residents ended up on air mattresses on the floor in squalid conditions. Hundreds eventually had to be rescued and 15 died within a month. At least five deaths were attributed to the evacuation.

In response, the Louisiana Department of Health shut down Dean’s homes and pulled his lucrative nursing home licenses. Several former residents and their families are also suing him for damages. 

The Dean warehouse debacle also brought about more scrutiny of nursing home evacuation plans, particularly those that make use of so-called “unlicensed” shelters. 

Most nursing homes that are forced to evacuate try to send their residents and staff to licensed health care facilities – other nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and health care facilities who have to meet certain federal standards to operate. But owners can use unlicensed evacuation sites, like churches, schools and the warehouse Dean owned. 

Currently, there are 94 nursing homes located in parishes considered high risk for hurricanes. Of those 94, a little less than third – 27 homes – listed 15 unlicensed facilities as primary or secondary evacuation shelters in their hurricane preparedness plans, Russo said.



Nursing home owners have swapped out two of those unlicensed shelters for licensed sites over the past few months. A third unlicensed facility was also dropped after health officials recommended it not be used for evacuations.

That leaves 12 remaining sites –  eight that health officials said shouldn’t be used for shelter and four they considered salvageable with tweaks.  

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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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