Zurik: Families of nursing home residents in warehouse shelter say owner ‘needs to be punished’

Lawsuits are mounting against Bob Dean, the owner of seven nursing homes and the warehouse he used to shelter hundreds of residents during Hurricane Ida
Updated: Sep. 10, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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LAFOURCHE PARISH, La. (WVUE) - Family members are angered at what their loved ones had to endure inside a Tangipahoa Parish warehouse used as a shelter for hundreds of nursing home residents to ride out Hurricane Ida. More than 850 residents were housed in the warehouse in the town of Independence, seven of them died.

“It’s a crying shame. It is so sad”

Rachel Ayo’s mother, Ella Mae Alario, was taken from South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab to the warehouse shelter in Independence ahead of Hurricane Ida. Ayo, along with the families of three other residents are among the latest to sue the seven nursing homes involved, along with their owner, Bob Dean.

Dean also owned the warehouse where the residents were taken in the town of Independence in Tangipahoa Parish.

Ayo’s mother has dementia and she trusted South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab to take care of her and protect her. But when Ayo saw FOX 8′s coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, she was left helpless and panicked.

She saw video of resident after resident being wheeled out of the warehouse in Independence and news of multiple deaths at the facility.

“I said ‘Is it my mom that passed? Or is she in the hospital?’ You know, they could have had the decency to call and let me know where they were at, you know?” Ayo said.

Her mom survived the storm and the warehouse but was taken to a nearby hospital.

“She had a bad bladder infection when she got there [to the hospital],” she said. “She had fallen, she had busted her elbow, and they took some blood and a culture and it came out positive that she had a bad infection.

“She was dehydrated really bad,” Ayo said.

When Rachel Ayo saw her mother, she was shocked by her condition.

“Her clothes were soiled,” Ayo said. “Her shirt was full of blood because they said she had fallen. And her clothes [were] all wet. It was soaking wet... And it’s not even her clothes.”

Ayo’s lawsuit on behalf of her mother also includes one other resident of the South Lafourche Nursing home along with two from the Maison Orleans Senior Center in Orleans Parish. The families are represented by attorney Morris Bart.

“We think given the situation here of an individual taking advantage of elderly New Orleans citizens in a terrible situation like the aftermath of Hurricane Ida will shock the jury and shock the conscience,” Bart said.

The suit alleges the owner of the seven homes involved in the evacuation, Bob Dean, “selected the warehouse as the evacuation site not based on patient assessment, need, habitability, but instead based on cost savings.”

“Everybody can see what a shocking situation this is,” Bart said. “When you have a cause of action that involved such outrageous behavior, it’s in the jury’s discretion to decide what that’s worth.”

Days after Hurricane Ida’s landfall, when his residents were being removed from the warehouse by emergency crews, Dean defended his decision to evacuate the residents to a warehouse.

“We only had five deaths within the six days,” Dean told FOX 8 by phone. “We normally, with 850 people, you’ll have a couple a day so we did really good on taking care of people.”

After the storm, Dean sent a series of strange and vulgar text messages to health officials that included lines like “on the air wrangler please text me back oh my god text me in the air what a liar you are.”

Dean also left a voicemail for a state official after they started to evacuate his residents to other, more suitable facilities.

Attorneys are starting to line up alleging Dean is the one who broke the law.

Attorney Madro Bandaries filed a suit on behalf of Bridges Edmonds and her sister, Cillen Meisler.

Meisler spoke on the phone with her sister during an interview with FOX 8′s Lee Zurik, where she said she saw people she knew die around her.

“At least four of them that I know,” she told Lee Zurik.


Meisler’s lawsuit points out “in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic... nobody was tested to determine if they were Covid-free before entering the warehouse... No precautions were taken to provide social distancing among residents and most residents were not adequately protected from the risk of contracting Covid-19.”

Days before the evacuation, a report filed with the Lousiana Department of Health showed at least five residents and eight staff members of the seven nursing homes had new cases of COVID-19. An average of 37 percent of the staff at the seven nursing homes were fully vaccinated.

An additional lawsuit filed Friday in Baton Rouge said one patient was ‘defenseless, helpless and inhumanely treated by those entrusted to care for her.”

“It’s heartbreaking... It’s horrible... and they need to be punished,” Rachel Ayo said.

Ayo picked up her mother from the hospital, but still fights back tears, thinking about what she went through -- packed into a warehouse with 850 other elderly people, hearing cries for help, going through a storm in what Ayo calls, inhumane conditions.

“I hope you [get] to the bottom of it because it needs to be solved and he needs to be punished. Because it’s... it’s horrible. THat’s not a way to die, or even a way to live, you know? it’s sad,” Ayo said.

FOX 8 has tried multiple times to contact Bob Dean for additional comment on these stories this week, but he has not returned our calls.

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