Louisiana’s attorney general on Friday announced the state’s justice department is launching a full investigation into the deaths of four nursing home residents who were transferred to a warehouse in the town of Independence on August 27 ahead of Hurricane Ida.
Following Ida’s landfall on August 29, the state’s health department said it heard reports about “deteriorating conditions” in the facility that nursing home residents had been transferred to.
Inspectors were sent Tuesday – four days after the residents were taken there – but were expelled and kept from doing a full assessment, according to the state Health Department.
Citing “significant concerns about conditions,” the department moved each person out of the building by Thursday evening, according to Louisiana State Health Officer Joe Kanter. The governor has said a total of 843 residents were moved from the location by Thursday.
Fourteen of the residents who were removed had to be taken to hospitals for further treatment or evaluation, Kanter said.
A fifth nursing home resident who was being held at the warehouse facility before being moved to an Alexandria shelter on Thursday also died, Rapides Parish Coroner Dr. Jonathan Hunter said on Friday.
The woman was pronounced dead at the Alexandria shelter Friday morning, Hunter said, adding that her dead “very much will be considered storm-related.” Hunter has requested that an autopsy be performed to determine the cause and manner of death.
AG points out governor’s relationship to police chief and sheriff
In a news release, state Attorney General Jeff Landry drew attention to the fact that the Independence Police Chief, Frank Edwards, and the sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish, Daniel Edwards, are both brothers of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards – and both made statements that they did not intend to investigate the deaths, according to Landry.
The police chief told CNN his department is too small and doesn’t have enough resources to investigate and has been overwhelmed with recovery efforts since the hurricane.
In an interview with CNN affiliate WVUE, the chief had initially said he had no plans to investigate, but later in the interview left open the possibility.
When asked to respond to the attorney general’s claims, the sheriff’s office said in a statement to CNN that the case is “not connected to the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office. It is under the purview of the Independence Police Department under Chief Frank Edwards.”
Landry, the attorney general, also expressed concern that his Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the Unified Command Group were not informed of the potential patient abuse or neglect until news of the deaths was made public.
“Our goal will be to determine who decided to move these patients to this apparently unsafe and potentially inappropriate facility,” the attorney general said in a statement.
“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,” Landry added. “How exactly did these deaths occur?”
Officials knew nursing home residents would be transferred there
The residents died in a situation officials previously described as deteriorating and overwhelmed. Kevin Litten, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health, previously described the building as a warehouse.
The facility is called Waterbury Companies Inc. CNN has reached out to Waterbury Companies for comment but has not heard back.
“I would not have wanted my mother or grandmother to be in those conditions,” Frank Edwards, the police chief, told WVUE of the evacuation shelter in Tangipahoa Parish.
Chief Edwards said that before the storm, the location had staff members from seven nursing facilities; the Louisiana Department of Health said that there were patients from seven facilities, as well.
“They had generators, a large generator capable of running all, of meeting all of their needs,” the chief told WVUE. He said there were TVs on the walls and temporary showers.
“There were plenty of people there. And there were medicine carts and all that kind of stuff,” he said.
On Thursday, both the police chief and governor acknowledged that officials had knowledge about the placement of the nursing home residents in advance.
The chief was initially told that 300 to 350 people from multiple nursing homes were being taken there, he told WVUE. But he notified state officials when he discovered more than 800 people inside.
During a Thursday news conference, the governor said the shelter looked to be in order when state health department officials inspected it last Friday.
But, he said, nursing homes and their owners have an obligation to move residents or ask for help when conditions deteriorate.
“It did neither,” the governor said, promising a full investigation.
Baton Rouge resident listed as executive of facilities
A review of business licenses by CNN has found that Baton Rouge, Louisiana, resident Bob Dean Jr. is listed as an executive with all seven nursing facilities, in addition to the warehouse to which the nursing home patients were evacuated in Tangipahoa Parish.
CNN has reached out to Dean Jr. but has not received a response.
When questioned about the warehouse by 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.”
Dumpsters were too full, electricity went out
The police chief said that as time went on, it became apparent that the operators were struggling to meet patient needs.
“They were over capacity and conditions became unacceptable,” he told WVUE. Dumpsters weren’t large enough, he said, describing other sanitation problems, including the “unacceptable” restrooms.
And despite the generators, the facility struggled to maintain power. “Electricity went out more than once, and when that happens then the oxygen concentrators stop working. So that’s a problem in itself. I spoke with the governor and we got oxygen tanks moved in here,” said the chief.
Chief Edwards told WVUE that on Tuesday afternoon he reached out to the governor again, and by Wednesday state officials showed up on the scene and began triage.
“Everybody at the facility was doing the best they could under the circumstances,” said Chief Edwards. “What hurt me, I guess the most, was to see that many people in distress at one time, in one place.”
Of the four deaths initially reported, a coroner classified three as storm-related, the state Health Department said. Those were a 59-year-old woman from Jefferson Parish, a 52-year-old man from Orleans Parish, and a 77-year-old man from Terrebonne Parish, Gov. Edwards said Thursday evening.
CNN’s Paul Murphy, Brian Todd and Travis Nichols contributed to this report.