Seven Louisiana nursing homes on Saturday were ordered to close immediately because their patients were evacuated to a single warehouse ahead of Hurricane Ida, the Louisiana Department of Health said.
Seven patients have died since the move, and five of the deaths have been classified as storm-related fatalities, the health department said in a statement.
Department personnel visited the warehouse on Monday and Tuesday and “observed conditions that have caused great concern to the State Health Officer that he reasonably believes may cause a danger to the public life, health, and safety,” according to a separate state order prohibiting the return of residents to the seven facilities.
NBC affiliate WDSU in New Orleans reported that a Louisiana Department of Health spokeswoman said generators failed and patients were on mattresses on the floor without food or clean clothes, and with the odor of human waste filling the air as the warehouse was inundated by stormwater.
The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
State inspectors who went to the warehouse in the town of Independence “were expelled from the property” and “were subject to intimidation by the owner of the seven nursing facilities,” the health department said.
A company associated with the nursing homes, most of which are in the New Orleans metro area, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday night.
The state health department said it moved the 843 patients from the warehouse Wednesday to other facilities or special needs shelters.
“The lack of regard for these vulnerable residents’ wellbeing is an affront to human dignity,” Louisiana’s health officer, Dr. Joseph Kanter, said in the statement. “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.”
State health Secretary Dr. Courtney N. Phillips warned: “There is more to come.”
AARP Louisiana director Denise Bottcher said in a statement Friday that the organization is calling for state and federal investigations “into the warehousing of vulnerable, medically fragile adults and seniors during Hurricane Ida. “
“Nursing homes have a duty to care for their residents, which includes planning for emergencies and evacuations,” she said. “These tragic deaths are the result of a complete failure of oversight, enforcement, and planning dating back more than a decade.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards has vowed an investigation that will include whether there was an intentional effort to obstruct inspection of the warehouse.
Ida struck near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, on Aug. 29 as a Category 4 hurricane. The nursing homes evacuated residents to the warehouse two days before Ida made landfall, the health department said.
The state was left in tatters, with 12 deaths in Louisiana attributed to the storm. On Saturday night 644,648 utility customers in Louisiana remained without power.