Things must change with nursing home storm plans, Louisiana's lieutenant governor says after deadly hurricane

By Steve Almasy, Rebekah Riess and Deanna Hackney, CNN

    (CNN) -- Louisiana's lieutenant governor is promising changes after seven nursing home residents died after being evacuated before Hurricane Ida to a warehouse with hundreds of other people.

The temporary shelter, a warehouse in Independence, Louisiana, was overwhelmed after receiving more than 840 people on August 27 ahead of the Category 4 hurricane, officials said, as power and sanitary conditions were failing.

"To pack that many people into one warehouse is just unthinkable. And how can this happen after we've gone through Katrina, and had those deaths in the nursing homes in, and set things in place, so this would never happen again?" Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told CNN. "It's just unthinkable, it's embarrassing."

In addition to the warehouse deaths, the New Orleans Health Department said Monday it found five people dead during its post-Ida checks at multiple senior apartment complexes in the city. Ten of the complexes were deemed unfit for occupancy and evacuated, the department said.

Nungesser, a Republican who has been in the office since January 2016, said "there's going to be some changes here in Louisiana to where this could never happen again."

He wants more checks and balances of officials who approve plans and how those plans get approved. He said local elected officials and people in the industry should have a say-so in those plans.

Authorities have learned that more than 50 911 calls were placed about the conditions in the warehouse, he said.

Following Ida's landfall on August 29, the state's health department said it heard reports about "deteriorating conditions" in the facility. Inspectors arriving four days after the residents arrived were expelled and kept from doing a full assessment, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Health officials said Saturday that health department team members were also "subject to intimidation by the owner of the seven nursing facilities."

A review of business licenses by CNN has found that Bob Dean Jr. of Baton Rouge is listed as an executive with all seven nursing facilities, in addition to the warehouse.

CNN has reached out to Dean Jr. but has not received a response.

When questioned about the warehouse by CNN affiliate WVUE, Dean said that, "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."

Five of the seven deaths have been classified as storm-related, the state's health department said in a recent news release.

Three of the nursing homes are in Jefferson Parish, two are in Orleans Parish, one is in Lafourche Parish and the other is in Terrebonne Parish.

Senior apartments evacuated after residents found dead in Ida's wake

The coroner's office in New Orleans is investigating after five residents of senior apartment complexes were found dead during post-storm wellness checks, according to a release from the New Orleans Health Department.

Ten of the facilities visited during checks on Friday and Saturday were deemed unfit for ongoing occupancy and evacuated, officials said.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department, said at a press conference Monday that immediately after the storm, the department began its typical outreach to leadership at facilities that it knew housed many elderly, vulnerable and disabled residents to assess their immediate needs, and send available resources.

Health officials, along with police, fire, and EMS, went door-to-door to check on every resident, Avegno said.

"In some of these facilities, we found fairly stark conditions, no power, no elevators no lights, individuals in their rooms who couldn't access normal supports or services," she said. "Tragically in some places, our staff discovered residents who had died and had not yet been discovered."

Officials determined there were "emergent threats to life and safety for the people who were remaining there," and "quickly mobilized, getting those individuals to state shelters, as soon as possible," Avegno said.

In four days, according to Avegno, teams visited nearly 30 facilities for comprehensive evaluations, and conducted quick assessments of several more. Close to 600 residents of these buildings were safely evacuated to state shelters where they are now "secure and comfortable," Avegno said.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at the same press conference Monday that "what we found was unacceptable, and accountability will be across the board. But right now, we will remain focused on improving the conditions of the facilities that we closed in order to bring our citizens back, we do not want to bring them back in those conditions that they left."

Christopher Homes Inc, which describes itself as "a senior living ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans," owns several of the facilities that were closed by the health department and housed three of the residents that were found deceased.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans provided a statement on behalf of Christopher Homes Inc, that said, "Residents are independent living tenants with leases, and before storm season, all residents were required to provide a personal evacuation plan to property management, which verifies the plan."

"Without a mandatory evacuation order, Christopher Homes could not close the buildings for Hurricane Ida. All residents were encouraged to evacuate. Two hundred eighty-six residents in Orleans Parish chose to stay in their apartments or did not have the means to evacuate without the resources usually provided by the City of New Orleans in a mandatory evacuation," the statement said.

"In the days following Sunday's landfall, Christopher Homes leadership repeatedly requested assistance and resources from civil authorities," the statement said. "After the death of one of our residents was reported five days later, on Friday, September 3, civil authorities finally responded and provided resources to evacuate those residents who had not voluntarily evacuated."

Cantrell was asked about the Archdiocese's accusations at Monday's news conference and said, "I don't play the blame game ... If there is an issue that this is a city matter, I own it every step of the way, including all of the people who stand with me to deliver services. This is not one of them."

"I think accountability, needs to be where it is. And that's all on these institutions, the Archdiocese, whomever, who is responsible for operating, maintaining, and protecting the lives of the elderly, which they are paid to do," Cantrell said.

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