Louisiana Nursing Home Owner Defends Care at Warehouse Where Four Died

Hundreds of residents were evacuated to the warehouse ahead of Hurricane Ida. Reports of squalor soon followed.,


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INDEPENDENCE, La. — Empty wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and dirty face masks sat piled outside of a warehouse on Friday morning, the only remaining signs that more than 800 of New Orleans’s most vulnerable people had been bused there as a powerful hurricane tore through — and then rescued from squalor this week by state officials who vowed to investigate.

Residents of seven privately run nursing homes had been evacuated to the warehouse ahead of Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in Louisiana as an intense Category 4 storm on Sunday. Complaints about unhealthy conditions soon followed. Four people died there, including three whose deaths were classified by state officials as storm-related.

Officials have identified those three victims as a 59-year-old woman from Jefferson Parish and two men, a 52-year-old from Orleans Parish and a 77-year-old from Terrebonne Parish.

The nursing homes from which the residents were initially evacuated are owned by Bob G. Dean Jr., a Baton Rouge businessman. Efforts to reach Mr. Dean were not immediately successful. But in an interview with WAFB, a local television station, he contended that the deaths were acceptable.

“We only had five deaths within the six days, and normally with 850 people you’ll have a couple a day, so we did really good with taking care of people,” Mr. Dean told the television station.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Dean was referring to another death at one of his nursing homes in addition to the four people who died after being transferred to the warehouse in Independence.

He also contended in the television interview that state investigators had illegally entered the warehouse site on Tuesday before they were expelled.

“The Fourth Amendment says that they have to have a warrant to come on the private property, much less seize persons or properties, so they came on illegally,” Mr. Dean said.

Mr. Dean has owned and operated nursing homes in Louisiana for decades and has accumulated a long history of disputes over safety issues and legal battles over his operations.

In a 1998 episode similar to this week’s tragedy, two nursing home residents died after being evacuated on buses without air-conditioning to a Baton Rouge warehouse owned by Mr. Dean during the approach of Hurricane Georges. He appealed a $1,500 state fine related to the death during that evacuation of an 86-year-old woman who had a heart attack; he succeeded in lowering the fine to $1,000 when a judge determined his company was not responsible for her death.

Outside the warehouse in Independence on Friday, Louisiana State Police troopers rolled in and out in SUVs and put up yellow tape to keep people out. Cardboard boxes remained spread across the wet ground next to one exit, as if to create a dry path through the mud for those leaving the facility. Labels on the broken-down boxes indicated that they were for hospital beds, easy-to-make oats, and frozen bread. They sat beside a half-empty quart of milk, blue surgical gloves and crumpled bottles of water.

Many neighbors questioned why the nursing home residents had been brought to what turned out to be one of the hardest-hit regions in the state.

In neighborhoods around the warehouse, the winds from Ida had blown the siding off mobile homes, pushed large trees through roofs and knocked branches onto power lines, sending splayed electrical wires across streets. A sign welcoming visitors to Independence was surrounded by trees snapped near the base of their trunks.

Longtime residents said the warehouse had once been used as a stocking factory and later was used to manufacture aerosol cans before largely going dark, though they said it was still sometimes used to store emergency supplies.

People who sat in driveways and on porches in the sweltering heat nearby said they had no idea that hundreds of nursing home residents had been bused to the warehouse until Wednesday, when dozens of buses lined up to take them to hospitals after state officials began to fear that the conditions inside were hazardous.

A block away from the warehouse, Lillian Danna, 92, who lives alone, stuck out the storm in the same home she has lived in since the 1950s. As she used a hose to clear debris from her driveway on Friday, she described discovering that the storm had torn through her neighborhood. She awoke on Monday after the storm when it was still dark and with no electricity. She grabbed the flashlight she keeps by her bed and tried to see her back yard, where she has a shed, but it was too difficult to see clearly.

“I couldn’t see the shed,” she said, “but I knew something was wrong.”

When daylight came, she discovered that a large tree had crushed the small structure, leaving her devastated about the damage but thanking God that it hadn’t hit her house. It was hours before the wind relented, allowing her to finally open her door.

“If it had fallen on my house, it would have probably killed me,” she said.

A few nights later, she was confused by the dozens of vehicles — shuttles, RVs and buses — that packed the neighborhood, keeping neighbors awake through the night as the nursing home residents were taken to safety.

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