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'Warehouse of death': Death toll among evacuated residents climbs to 7 as of Saturday

1 month 1 week 6 days ago Saturday, September 04 2021 Sep 4, 2021 September 04, 2021 7:11 PM September 04, 2021 in News
Source: WBRZ

INDEPENDENCE – Multiple agencies are now involved in an investigation into a massive, makeshift shelter where hundreds of nursing home residents were crammed into tight living spaces to ride out Hurricane Ida. Four people died at the facility in the days following the storm, and more than a dozen were sent to the hospital. 

Read more: State officials shutting down nursing homes that evacuated residents to mass shelter

Friday, the WBRZ Investigative Unit spoke to a resident who was in the warehouse and described the conditions.

"It was a warehouse of death...hot, stuffy, smelly, scary, and dangerous," resident Wade Heaton said. "We only got fed once a day if we were lucky."

Heaton recalled staff telling them they needed to pack enough clothes for three days to escape Ida's wrath. The home he was staying in was located in New Orleans.

"It was one of the most inhumane, I kept thinking I was in limbo," Heaton said. "What time it was. What day it was. Sometimes we'd get answers. What it reminded me of was concentration camps of World War II."

Day-long rescues unfolded Thursday at the factory warehouse that a Baton Rouge businessman tried to use as a shelter.

State regulators told the WBRZ Investigative Unit Thursday that more than 800 nursing home residents from seven facilities in Orleans, Lafourche, Jefferson and Terrebonne parishes were taken to the Independence warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish.  The nursing home managers were hoping to turn the facility into a mass shelter.  Four of the 850 people there died; 14 others needed medical attention and 850 were rescued Wednesday and Thursday.

Saturday, two more deaths among those residents were reported bringing the total death toll to 6.

Vehicles were later seen dropping off some of the evacuees at the field house on LSU's campus Thursday afternoon. Others were taken to nursing homes and special needs shelters across the state.

On Friday, Louisiana State Police said it had investigators looking into the situation in coordination with the Louisiana Department of Health and state Attorney General's Office. That afternoon, troopers had placed crime scene tape around the Independence warehouse, blocking access to the building. 

“Our goal will be to determine who decided to move these patients to this apparently unsafe and potentially inappropriate facility. 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,” Attorney General Jeff Landry said in statement Friday. “How exactly did these deaths occur?”

The Louisiana Department of Health said it had "significant concerns" about the conditions at that facility earlier this week. The department said it was prevented from conducting a full assessment when inspectors were "expelled" from the property Tuesday.

"We're going to do a full investigation into whether the owner of the facilities failed to keep residents safe and whether he intentionally obstructed efforts to check in on them and determine what conditions were in the shelter," Governor Edwards said during a news conference Thursday evening. "And if warranted, we will take aggressive legal action against any responsible parties."

The health department was later able to confirm that water entered the building, and the shelter encountered problems with its generators. The local coroner has not determined definitive causes of death at this time but has classified three of the deaths as storm-related.

The nursing home residents were taken to the makeshift shelter last Friday and, after the storm’s landfall, complaints started rolling in.

All seven facilities where residents were sent from – River Palms Nursing and Rehab; South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab; Maison Orleans Healthcare Center; Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home; West Jefferson Health Care Center; Maison DeVille Nursing Home; and Maison DeVille Nursing Home of Harvey – are all owned or associated with Bob Dean, a Baton Rouge businessman.

Phones went unanswered at one of the offices Dean owns in Baton Rouge.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit uncovered Dean recently filed a lawsuit related to a dispute about the purchase of a Rolls-Royce. It has since been settled outside court. 

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