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Committee questions state over handling of nursing home evacuations

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BATON ROUGE - New rules are being discussed for how emergency evacuations for nursing home facilities are handled. That's after a disastrous evacuation before Hurricane Ida that stranded more than 800 people in a warehouse ill-equipped to properly care for the residents. At least five have died from the experience.

A legislative committee wanted to know who signed off on the plans to send these nursing home residents to the warehouse in Independence. The discussion centered around doing better.

"My frustration is there was no food facility, they were cooking food in a pot outside the door with stacks of dirty diapers, it looked like a place Hitler sent people to," said Beth Mizell (R-Tangipahoa).

Lawyers for the Louisiana Department of Health sat before an oversight committee Friday, taking heat about what happened when seven nursing home facilities evacuated patients and moved them to Independence.

"We should have addressed the lack of standards a long time ago," Mizell said. "We walk around it. We walk around it, and we're afraid to go there and shame on us."

Fifteen nursing home residents have died after they were crammed into a mass shelter to ride out Hurricane Ida. Five of those deaths have been confirmed storm-related. Since the licenses for the facilities have been revoked, patients have been relocated to other facilities around the state, and lawsuits have been filed.

The committee repeatedly asked the state who signed off on the emergency plans to let it happen. The lawyers said the Louisiana Department of Health does not approve emergency preparedness plans. Instead, lawyers said nursing homes file their emergency plans with the local office of emergency preparedness. The state does receive a summary of the plans.

A WBRZ investigation found LDH had evacuation plans on file from the seven nursing homes involved in the evacuation debacle. While it doesn't approve them, the state says it reviews plan summaries to confirm that all required elements are contained.

LDH says the facility itself is responsible for the local health, safety and welfare of its residents.

An investigation involving multiple state agencies is ongoing. The committee says it's looking toward legislation to prevent the situation from happening again.

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