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Bill aims to limit state's liability for nursing home evacuations after Hurricane Ida deaths

7 months 3 weeks 2 days ago Tuesday, April 12 2022 Apr 12, 2022 April 12, 2022 8:08 AM April 12, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - A new proposal from lawmakers—filed in response to a disastrous series of hurricane evacuations that ended with more than a dozen people dead—would enforce stricter oversight upon nursing homes while also limiting the state's risk of facing legal backlash.

House bill 933 would mandate those facilities submit an "after-action" report to review how their evacuation plans fared in wake of a natural disaster, but the proposal also stipulates that those reports be hidden from public view.

"...after-action reports shall be confidential and exempt from disclosure pursuant to present law relative to public records," the bill read in part. 

The proposal also says the state would not be liable for "the death of or any injury to persons or damage to property" in situations like the one that unfolded last year in Tangipahoa Parish, where more than 800 people were crammed into a warehouse to ride out Hurricane Ida.

Seven nursing homes, all tied to Baton Rouge businessman Bob Dean, moved their residents and some staff members to the makeshift shelter. The state sent inspectors to survey the facility after health officials were tipped off about the horrid living conditions inside, but they were ultimately "expelled" from the property.

State officials later led a rescue at the shelter days after the storm and found four people dead inside. Within weeks of the evacuation, 15 people were dead, though the Louisiana Department of Health only categorized five of those deaths as "storm-related" due to the patients' ages and other factors.

The bill dictates a nursing home would have to notify the Louisiana Department of Health of its intent to relocate to an unlicensed shelter within an hour of making that decision and that the state may conduct on-site inspections at any time deemed necessary. 

Lawsuits filed in wake of the evacuation allege family members were misled and that staff failed to maintain livable conditions inside the warehouse. The state was also pulled into the legal battle after it was revealed the health department initially signed off on the ill-fated evacuation plan.

"Somehow, the state of Louisiana approved a hurricane evacuation plan and said 'you know what? We're going to roll out 800 some cots, stick them in a hot warehouse with two to three port-o-potties in there, and just leave these people to sit until the storm blows over," Ron Haley, an attorney for one of the victims, told WBRZ last year. 

The nursing homes implicated in those lawsuits have since lost their licenses and laid off hundreds of staff members

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