Additional verifications of nursing home evacuation sites ahead of hurricane season

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The Louisiana Department of Health is conducting an additional inspection of all “unlicensed” emergency evacuation sites for nursing homes this month ahead of the start of hurricane season on June 1. The additional screening is a precautionary measure after more than 800 nursing home residents had to be rescued from an evacuation site at a warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

While many nursing homes move their residents to similar facilities during emergencies, some rely on non-medical buildings to provide temporary shelter. Thirteen of the 28 nursing homes evacuated during Hurricane Ida sent people to a church, warehouse or outdoor evacuation center for at least a few days.

Struggling retirement home owner Bob Dean has infamously moved residents from his seven southeast Louisiana facilities to a warehouse in Independence, where state inspectors say there are no had no adequate food, staff or sanitation. Vulnerable people were found lying in soiled clothes on air mattresses on the ground, and 15 of them died in the process. At least five of those deaths were attributed to the botched evacuation.

Dean’s homes were later closed, though he sued the state to regain control of his licenses.

In addition to Dean’s seven facilities, some residents of Vermillion Health Care Center in Kaplan were evacuated to Winnfield First Baptist Church for Hurricane Ida. St. Luke’s Living Center in New Orleans brought some of its residents to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Residents of the 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 traveled to the Medico Evacuation Center in Ville Platte, a large warehouse-like facility directly behind another nursing home, Heritage Manor.

In addition to additional 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 plans, although the review has not yet been completed, Courtney Phillips, the state’s health secretary, said last week.

Phillips also urged people with loved ones in nursing homes to ask ahead of hurricane season what the facility’s evacuation plan is. Families need to know where loved ones are going before a storm, she said.

This month’s inspections and reviews are an interim measure while the state waits to see what kind of changes Louisiana lawmakers will make to the plan’s review and approval process. The Legislature is considering a few bills that would adjust how emergency preparedness plans are audited in the wake of the Dean evacuation scandal.

It’s unclear whether Dean’s nursing home emergency plans were thoroughly researched before Ida, though he submitted copies 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 on Tuesday and is now heading to the Senate for exam.

The legislation would require reviews of the nursing home emergency plan by numerous state agencies, including the Department of Health, the State Fire Marshal and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and emergency preparedness.

State health officials would also have to explicitly approve or reject each plan — a power the Department of Health does not currently have. Nursing homes whose plans were rejected would not be able to have their licenses renewed, according to the legislation.

Although the bill has received overwhelming support so far, lawmakers have raised concerns over the estimated cost of $1.75 million to purchase an electronic tracking system, originally required by the legislation. , for nursing home emergency plans.

Health officials said the technology will help the department determine if too many nursing homes are using duplicate providers for food, water and transportation – a persistent problem that could cause chaos if too many facilities had to be evacuated at once.

Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Gonzales, suggested care home owners be charged a fee to cover the cost of the electronic system. Instead, Stagni on Tuesday removed the electronic tracking system requirement from the legislation.

Governor John Bel Edwards, who has been a major benefactor of political donations from the nursing home industry, said he met with ‘most nursing home owners’ last week to discuss some of the proposed adjustments to the nursing home preparation process.

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