The death toll in Louisiana rose last Thursday after state health officials announced an investigation into the deaths of four nursing home residents who had been evacuated to a warehouse ahead of Hurricane Ida.
The Waterbury Companies, Inc. warehouse where the 843 residents from seven nursing facilities (operated by one owner) were moved was later determined to be unsafe.
Conditions quickly deteriorated in the Independence, Louisiana, warehouse, according to Louisiana Department of Health spokesperson Aly Neel.
“We know that water did enter the building,” she told The Associated Press, noting that there were problems with electricity generators.
Neel said that the health department received reports of people lying on mattresses on the floor and not being fed, changed or socially distanced and that, when a team of health inspectors showed up to investigate the warehouse on Tuesday, the owner of the nursing facilities demanded that they leave.
Neel identified the owner as Baton Rouge businessman Bob Dean.
According to NOLA.com, three of the four deaths at the warehouse have been classified as “storm related” by the coroner.
The outlet noted that state health inspectors have written up Dean-owned facilities before, including after a woman was hospitalized with more than 500 fire ant bites after the insects had infested her bed.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said that he was “grieved by the situation.”
“We’re going to do a full investigation into whether these facilities, the owner of the facilities, failed to keep residents safe and whether he intentionally obstructed efforts to check in on them and determine what the conditions were in the shelter,” Edwards said. “And if warranted, we will take aggressive legal action against any responsible parties.”
Independence Police Chief Frank Edwards told WVUE-TV that the warehouse had only been set up to receive up to 350 people and that some residents were on air mattresses on the floor, trash cans were too small, there were issues with restrooms and that generators stopped working a few times.
“I would not have wanted my mother or grandmother to be in those type of conditions,” he said.
State health inspectors returned to the site on Wednesday and began relocating residents; by late Thursday, all had been taking to hospitals, nursing homes and special needs shelters.
Fourteen people required hospitalization.
Louisiana’s chief medical officer Dr. Joe Kanter said law enforcement officials were already on site investigating.
However, Edwards was hesitant to point the finger at the nursing homes or their owner.
“I have no idea what the situation or circumstances were when they evacuated all of those people,” he said. “They may have been prepared for two nursing homes and had six more in danger. Let’s assume they had more to evacuate than they had planned for and they had to decide whether to move them to the facility they had or not evacuate them at all.”
The Medicare.gov website rates six of the seven nursing facilities with one star out of five.