More than 800 nursing home residents from seven facilities in Orleans, Lafourche, Jefferson and Terrebonne parishes were taken to the Independence warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish, which one describes as "a warehouse of death."
Now, Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter has ordered the immediate closure of the seven nursing homes that evacuated to a crammed warehouse in Tangipahoa, our media partners at WBRZ reports.
Multiple agencies are now involved in an investigation of the massive, makeshift shelter where hundreds of nursing home residents were bunched into tight living spaces to ride out Hurricane Ida.
LDH said Saturday seven people died and five of those deaths were storm-related.
On Friday, the WBRZ Investigative Unit spoke to a resident who was in the warehouse and described the conditions.
"It was a warehouse of death...hot, stuffy, smelly, scary, and dangerous," resident Wade Heaton said. "We only got fed once a day if we were lucky."
Heaton recalled staff telling them they needed to pack enough clothes for three days to escape Ida's wrath. The home he was staying in was located in New Orleans.
"It was one of the most inhumane, I kept thinking I was in limbo," Heaton said. "What time it was. What day it was. Sometimes we'd get answers. What it reminded me of was concentration camps of World War II."
Day-long rescues unfolded Thursday, four days after the storm, at the factory warehouse that a Baton Rouge businessman tried to use as a shelter.
The nursing home managers were hoping to turn the facility into a mass shelter, they say. Four of the 850 people there died; 14 others needed medical attention and 850 were rescued Wednesday and Thursday.
Saturday, two more deaths among those residents were reported bringing the total death toll to 6.
Vehicles were later seen dropping off some of the evacuees at the field house on LSU's campus Thursday afternoon. Others were taken to nursing homes and special needs shelters across the state.
On Friday afternoon, Louisiana State Police had placed crime scene tape around the Independence warehouse, blocking access to the building.
“Our goal will be to determine who decided to move these patients to this apparently unsafe and potentially inappropriate facility. We wish to determine who authorized that these patients be moved to that facility, who oversaw the movement, who later turned away career staff members of the Louisiana Department of Health when they attempted to look into this situation. And why did the Police Chief and the Sheriff state an investigation was not needed,” Attorney General Jeff Landry said in statement Friday. “How exactly did these deaths occur?”
"We're going to do a full investigation into whether the owner of the facilities failed to keep residents safe and whether he intentionally obstructed efforts to check in on them and determine what conditions were in the shelter," Governor Edwards said during a news conference Thursday evening. "And if warranted, we will take aggressive legal action against any responsible parties."
The Louisiana Department of Health said it had "significant concerns" about the conditions at that facility earlier this week, according to Saturday's press release. The department said it was prevented from conducting a full assessment when inspectors were "expelled" from the property Tuesday.
In addition, LDH team members were subject to intimidation by the owner of the seven nursing facilities.
“What happened in Independence is reprehensible, and I know there are many families hurting as a result,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Courtney N. Phillips. “Today’s action against these facilities is needed. There is more to come. Our Department’s mission is to advance the health and wellbeing of our residents — and that includes our vulnerable nursing home residents.”
“The lack of regard for these vulnerable residents' well-being is an affront to human dignity. We have lost trust in these nursing homes to provide adequate care for their residents. We are taking immediate action today to protect public health,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s State Health Officer.
Individuals looking for loved ones evacuated from one of the seven nursing homes should call 211, they say, which is coordinating with LDH’s Office of Aging and Adult Services which directly helps to connect families.
Since standing up the hotline via 211, LDH has connected with more than 200 families of nursing home residents who evacuated to the Independence facility.
LDH say they are proactively reaching out to families of nursing home residents.
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