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Zurik: Nursing home residents evacuated to warehouse describe ‘nightmare’ conditions

Seven people who were evacuated to the facility died
Updated: Sep. 6, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Nursing home residents who were crammed inside of a warehouse shelter in Tangipahoa Parish where several people died describe conditions inside as a ‘nightmare.’

The residents were among hundreds evacuated from seven nursing home facilities on the Southshore to the warehouse facility in Independence, La. ahead of Hurricane Ida. The seven facilities that evacuated patients to the Independence facility were the River Palms Nursing and Rehab and Maison Orleans Healthcare Center in Orleans Parish, Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home, West Jefferson Health Care Center, Maison DeVille Nursing Home of Harvey in Jefferson Parish, Maison DeVille Nursing Home in Terrebonne Parish and the South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab in Lafourche Parish. According to records, each of the facilities is operated by New Orleans businessman Bob Dean, who also owns the warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish.

Did you work inside or have a family member evacuated to the Independence, Louisiana warehouse shelter? E-mail us at fox8investigates@fox8live.com

Officials in Tanigpahoa Parish said the facility was expecting 300 people but that number quickly grew to 800 people. State agencies were notified and attempted to inspect the facility but were turned away. The state then decided that the residents inside needed to be relocated to various other facilities across the state.

A total of seven of the evacuated nursing home residents died, with at least four of them being deemed storm-related.

“I’m lucky to be alive”

Sean May, a resident of the Park Place Nursing Home in Gretna, was one of the people evacuated to the warehouse. May needs oxygen to stay alive, but when Park Place in Gretna evacuated him to the warehouse, he said, they left him to die.

“I’m supposed to be on 24-hour oxygen,” May said. “I’ve been on oxygen for six years and they sent me out there with no oxygen. Every day I kept begging them to get me oxygen and I went without oxygen for four days.

“I begged for them to get me oxygen, either a tank or concentrate and they kept saying I’m going to get it when I get it and it never happened, then they put me on a bus for fifteen hours,” May said.

Video from inside the facility obtained by FOX 8 News shows floor mats where owners of the homes expected elderly residents to sleep.

“They had us on the floor, I was laying on my mat and the mats were so close together they butted [together] so when people walked to try to go to the bathroom, a guy stepped on my hand and its either broke or fractured,” May said.

The warehouse had approximately ten portable toilets for nearly 850 people inside the shelter.

The seven nursing homes filed evacuation reports with the state, but stories inside the Independence, La. facility show the homes were ill-prepared to treat some of the most vulnerable residents of the state.

“It was the most horrendous conditions you could ever imagine”

Melanie Sieberth, was also at the Park Place Nursing Home in Gretna, and evacuated to the Independence, La. warehouse. She said the conditions inside were like a nightmare.

“We didn’t get fed breakfast until 2:30 in the afternoon and we might get dinner at 11:30 at night and it was just burned ravioli, just a scoopful of it -- I mean we were starving in there,” Sieberth said.

“There were people dying and they wouldn't even cover them up. They would just leave them there in the crowd until the coroner came hours and hours later."

Melanie Sieberth

On Tuesday, August 31, two days after Hurricane Ida’s landfall, the State Fire Marshal inspected the warehouse.

Records show the fire marshal found several deficiencies, including a lack of sufficient room between beds, the lack of a fire watch which is required in a shelter of nursing home residents, and multiple exits in the building were obstructed or blocked.

After those findings, it took the state two more days to remove all 850 residents of the warehouse shelter.

The Louisiana Department of Health ordered the immediate closure of the facilities, pending further regulatory action. The residents of those seven nursing homes have been relocated to facilities in Central and Northern Louisiana.

When interviewed on the day of the evacuation from the warehouse, the owner of the nursing homes, Bob Dean, said elderly deaths are not unusual in any facility.

“Normally, we lose two to three a day because they are very ill,” Dean told FOX 8. “We did the best that we could. I’m the only man that has a private evacuation center from Texas all the way to Florida. ... That first day cost me over a million dollars to evacuate. One million dollars and the government never pays me anything. I just do it because I have to save people.”

State officials suggest people call 2-1-1 if they are still searching for a family member who was staying at one of those seven nursing homes. Officials say 2-1-1 is coordinating with the Office of Aging and Adult Services to connect families with their evacuated loved ones.

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