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NEW ORLEANS - The number of nursing home residents who died after being evacuated en masse to an unsanitary warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish for Hurricane Ida has increased to 12, state health officials said Wednesday.
The Louisiana Department of Health had previously confirmed a death toll of seven evacuees within the first week after the storm. In addition, they have said that more than 50 people were hospitalized after the abortive evacuation, in which nursing home owner Bob Dean sent 843 residents from seven nursing homes to shelter at a former pesticide plant he owns in Independence.
Nursing home residents have described a horrific ordeal: They slept on the floor on soggy mattresses, toilets overflowed and air conditioners stopped working. State inspectors who visited the facility documented instances of residents crying out for help — some in waste-laden diapers that went days without changing — to no avail.
The LDH has revoked Dean’s seven nursing-home licenses and terminated his Medicaid provider agreements in the wake of the scandal. They are also pursuing federal regulatory action against Dean, while the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office has opened a criminal probe into the evacuation.
Dean’s attorney, John McLindon, has said that Dean will appeal to get back his nursing home licenses and Medicaid provider agreements. He also said that nothing about the evacuation rose to the level of criminal activity.
Though the death toll has grown to 12, only five of the deaths to date have been classified as “storm-related” by coroners, meaning that coroners have not yet linked the remaining seven deaths directly to Hurricane Ida or the stressful evacuation.
“Additional deaths may be considered storm-related pending autopsy/pathology results, but to stress, these deaths have not yet been classified as storm-related,” said LDH spokesperson Aly Neel.
“As time passes and given the health conditions that required a nursing home level of care, unfortunately the number of deaths among this group is likely to increase,” Neel added. “That is why it is important to make a distinction between the number of total deaths regardless of the cause and the number of storm-related deaths.”
McLindon said Wednesday that he had no information about the additional deaths.
Dean said in a previous interview with The Advocate | The Times-Picayune that a certain number of deaths among his residents was to be expected, given their age and frailty.
“I usually lose two or three people a day, that pass on,” Dean said. “So, four of the five that’s passed were hospice patients, which, you know — those are people that are on their way out.”
Dean also blamed state health officials — who rescued residents from his squalid warehouse — for problems in the aftermath, including residents lacking needed medications and their families not being able to track them down.
“They’re hurting my people and they’re killing them,” he texted LDH officials after the warehouse was cleared out.
Dean is already facing at least five lawsuits from nursing home residents and their family members, including those who died either during the evacuation or in the aftermath.
Couhig Partners of New Orleans, for example, represents one resident who died at the warehouse and a second who died last week, said attorney Blair Constant. He said the firm has also been in touch with a third family whose loved one died last week.
Constant said that the law firm does not know yet whether the two most recent deaths can be directly linked to the evacuation, and that they are relying on coroners to make those judgments.
The names of the deceased nursing home residents have not yet been publicly released.
Jefferson Parish District Court Judge Donald “Chick” Foret orally granted a preliminary injunction Monday in the Couhig Partners lawsuit against Dean, which forbids him from destroying any documents or communications about the evacuations or from destroying any of the residents’ personal belongings.
Even for those residents who made it out of the warehouse alive, the aftereffects of the evacuation have lingered.
New Orleans attorney Madro Bandaries, who has also filed suit against Dean over the evacuation, said Wednesday that he had a recent interview with a resident who was evacuated to the warehouse and spent three days sleeping in her wheelchair. She'd already had her left leg amputated, but noticed problems with her right leg during the evacuation. Her attempts to report the problem went ignored, he said.
After the residents were rescued, medical officials determined that her right leg had gangrene and needed to be amputated as well, he said.
Bandaries said that his law firm has been unable to serve Dean in his personal capacity with their lawsuit. McLindon is only representing Dean in the criminal and licensing matters, not the civil suits.
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