There Ought To Be Hell To Pay For That Nursing Home Warehouse Mess

Both Conrad Appel and Jeff Sadow this morning touch on what seems to be the signature outrage coming out of Hurricane Ida, namely the Waterbury Warehouse tragedy.

If you’ve somehow missed this, here’s a summary

Louisiana’s attorney general is seeking the public’s help in his investigation into the evacuation of more than 800 nursing home residents to a warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish, where conditions deteriorated rapidly after Hurricane Ida.

Seven people died after being taken to the Waterbury Co’s warehouse in Independence.

They were among 843 people from seven facilities in southeast Louisiana who were moved two days before the Category 4 storm struck. The Louisiana Department of Health had approved plans to bring residents to the site in Independence, but they learned conditions had deteriorated rapidly once Ida passed through the area.

Officials confirmed the residents were placed on mattresses on the floor where stormwater pooled inside portions of the warehouse. People were left unattended in their own waste, according to paramedics at the scene.

Staff from the nursing homes initially thwarted state health department inspectors when they attempted to gain access to the warehouse. Eventually, the residents were relocated to shelters and facilities around the state. Fourteen were taken to hospitals.

As Sadow said, it’s a good thing that Jeff Landry’s office is launching an investigation into the warehouse disaster. Here was Landry’s press release on the subject Friday…

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has begun an investigation relating to the deaths of four nursing home residents transferred to a Waterbury Companies Inc’s warehouse in Independence for Hurricane Ida.

In a video posted today, Attorney General Landry announced a team of his investigators at the Louisiana Department of Justice is launching a full investigation.

“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,” said Attorney General Landry. “How exactly did these deaths occur?”

Attorney General Landry expressed concern that his Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the Unified Command Group were not informed of the potential patient abuse or neglect until the deaths were announced publicly. Additionally, the Attorney General expressed concern that the Police Chief of Independence and the Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish, both brothers of the Governor, said they do not intend to investigate these deaths.

“This may be a long process; and we are all in the middle of a recovery from Hurricane Ida, which requires our attention,” added Attorney General Landry. “However, we must determine the facts surrounding these tragic deaths.”

Frank Edwards is the police chief in Independence, and Daniel Edwards is the sheriff in Tangipahoa Parish. They’re John Bel Edwards’ two brothers.

And Bob Dean, who owns seven nursing homes in southeastern Louisiana whose patients ended up at that warehouse, also owns the warehouse. He actually said this result wasn’t all that bad.

Seriously, when WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge got hold of Dean here was his quote

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

When asked about why state investigators were kicked off the property, he says it was to protect the privacy of the residents inside. He also claims the state tried to enter the place illegally. .

“The fourth amendment says that they have to have a warrant to come on private property, much less seize persons or properties so they came on there illegally,” Dean added.

That’s a cute song and dance, but it didn’t exactly sell. Yesterday the Louisiana Department of Health, who had inspected the warehouse before all this happened and said it met LDH’s “minimum requirements,” went and pulled Dean’s seven nursing home licenses and Medicaid contracts.

That probably didn’t make Bob Dean too happy.

Bob Dean is, after all, a faithful Democrat donor who has slathered John Bel Edwards with more than $40,000 in campaign cash.

The sleaze involved in all this is simply too thick to ignore, particularly now that it has killed seven senior citizens.

Why would you evacuate these people to a warehouse in Independence, anyway? To save money? It never occurred to anybody that Independence was going to be in Ida’s path and it was inevitable the place would lose power?

Bob Dean owns the Hotel Bentley in Alexandria, or at least he used to. He owns real estate all over Louisiana. He didn’t have a place outside Ida’s path he could store these people until their nursing homes were safe to return to?

Of course he did. But none of those places apparently were located where the local police chief and sheriff would be “reliable” in case something went wrong.

Nothing about this is surprising. The nursing home industry in Louisiana is a rancid tumor on the state’s economy and public fisc, and it has been for decades. Every time there’s a hurricane we get stories like this one, though usually they don’t carry a body count like this.

It’s telling that the Louisiana chapter of AARP is willing to throw bombs at not just Bob Dean but the whole industry. Denise Bottcher, the spokeswoman for Louisiana AARP, let this statement loose last week…

“AARP Louisiana is calling on state and federal authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the warehousing of vulnerable, medically fragile adults and seniors during Hurricane Ida. Nursing homes have a duty to care for their residents, which includes planning for emergencies and evacuations. These tragic deaths are the result of a complete failure of oversight, enforcement, and planning dating back more than a decade.

“Nursing homes need stricter standards and more accountability. AARP Louisiana calls on state leaders to reform the broken long-term care system. Instead of spending billions on bleak, sub-par but expensive nursing homes, we should focus efforts on helping more seniors live in their own homes with support.

“It’s a privilege to hold a nursing home license. It’s time to take it away from the facilities involved in this tragedy.”

Bottcher was Kathleen Blanco’s press secretary during Hurricane Katrina, which is either a bit of irony or an indication of how far things have progressed. Either way, she’s absolutely right about the need for reform.

We’ve chronicled this for years, but there is a bill which comes back up in the Louisiana legislature every year which would let Medicaid in Louisiana pay for home care for seniors who aren’t so far gone that they need to be in nursing homes. Currently the system is set up so that if Grandma needs someone to come in and do laundry, help her take a bath, fix her food and so forth, Grandma or her family have to pay for that out of pocket – which for a lot of Louisiana families is an expense they can’t handle.

Go to the state for some support on that score, and what do you get? A nursing home. Try to fix that and you can’t even get a bill out of committee. Appel found that out in 2018, for example, when amid a colossal state budget deficit ultimately fixed with a whopper of a tax increase he brought that bill. It would have saved the state $100 million a year and improved the lives of lots of people, but if it costs the Bob Deans of the world a few shekels, it’s a no-go.

It’s a stupid, one-size-fits-all Soviet scheme built purely on special interest politics and insider lobbying. Everybody screams about the riverboat pilots and the trial lawyers, but nobody in Louisiana is greasier than nursing home operators.

And now seven people are dead. Which Bob Dean thinks is a swell result. As he’s got the local police chief, the sheriff and the governor on his payroll, he doesn’t much care what anybody else thinks, either.

When you let substandard shit like this persist year after year, it’s inevitable that you will get a result so scandalous as to make the status quo untenable. Well, here we are.

The next time Louisiana’s legislature meets, Appel’s old bill, which Rep. Tony Bacala has carried a couple of times in the House, had better find its way to passage. It needs floor votes in both the House and Senate so we can get a good handle on exactly how many of these legislators are hopelessly bought off and how many of them need a good shellacking on Election Night in 2023.

Because right now a whole lot of them have some blood on their hands for doing the bidding of the Bob Deans of the world.

This is how you end up last in everything, boys and girls. This, right here.

Appel said he doubts seriously the people of Louisiana will learn anything from Ida and make any real reform. He might be right. But nursing home reform is the crucible. If we can’t do that after what happened in Independence, we can’t do anything.

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