Some nursing home residents finally returning home after chaotic Ida evacuation; lawmakers hope new bill will prevent future tragedies
Hurricane Ida slammed into Southeast Louisiana nine months ago, and seven nursing homes evacuated more than 800 residents to a warehouse in Independence.
Many of them are still trying to get their lives back together months later, and families of these residents are still outraged.
Lawmakers hope a new bill will ensure that nursing homes are prepared if a big storm comes this way once again.
It’s been almost one year since Arlene Matherne’s brother, Perry Burnett, was evacuated from his nursing home in Houma to a warehouse in Independence.
“It was really just depressing for him,” she said. “One thing he said was, ‘I don't have nothing.’ All his little things that he treasured, little things that were homey to him, were with him at the old nursing home.”
Matherne was finally allowed to collect what was left of his belongings two weeks ago.
“There was really nothing salvageable to take out of it,” she said. “TVs were molded, the beds were stripped with rat feces on them. There was a picture I found that I got out because it was still in a Ziploc bag.”
She returned these things to her brother a few weeks ago when he was finally moved to a care facility close to her.
“I fought and fought to try to get him closer,” Matherne said.
Matherne is now anxious as another hurricane season approaches.
“I can't take him with me,” she said. “He's got all these medications, and he's in a wheelchair.”
The legislature has about a month to change policies and plans to try to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
The Louisiana Department of Health simply reviews nursing homes’ emergency plans right now, but Rep. Candace Newell, D-Orleans, co-authored a bill that would change that process.
“It's going to be the Department of Health that's looking over these plans and approving them,”
Newell said. “Previously, they said they had a plan, and it actually wasn’t a plan.”
The goal of approval would be to try to ensure that all safety and health measures are met when evacuating nursing home residents.
The bill requires that all nursing homes submit an emergency plan to LDH by March 1 every year.
“If there's a plan that's in place, and it's being looked at by the Department of Health, we know that wherever they're going, they're going to be properly cared for,” Newell said.
Newell signed onto this bill, which was originally authored by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, because she thinks it’s important to require a uniform emergency plan and to take care of the vulnerable members of the community.
“We can't lose sight of our elders, and we can't throw them away because without them, we wouldn't be where we are,” she said.
The bill brings a bit of relief to Matherne.
“I'm thinking, if they look through it with a fine tooth comb, they have the facilities, the supplies, the equipment, everything they need, and then, when things are safe, they come back home,” she said.
But she does not expect the trauma from the incident to fade anytime soon.
“I'll never forget about it, and I'm sure he'll never forget about it,” Matherne said.
The bill passed the House 101-1. It was read in the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Health and Welfare.
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