After spending six days in a fetid warehouse with overflowing toilets and piled-up trash, four nursing home residents died and nearly 800 more were rescued, while state officials said they were opening an investigation and families pushed for answers about their loved ones’ whereabouts.

The scene all played out at a warehouse in Independence known as Waterbury Companies, where seven nursing homes all owned by the same Baton Rouge businessman sent 843 residents before Hurricane Ida to ride out the storm. The longer they stayed, the worse things got: several officials who entered the facility or worked there during the storm described the elderly living in inhumane conditions, some calling out for medicine, others stuck in diapers full of feces.

Louisiana Department of Health investigators had checked on the facility several times since the group was evacuated there, but they got kicked off the premises when they went to inspect the site Tuesday. By Wednesday, LDH officials started trying to move patients out of the warehouse, which continued into Thursday. By late Thursday afternoon, the warehouse was down to seven nursing home residents still waiting to be rescued.

Four Louisiana nursing home residents died and hundreds more needed to be rescued from a Tangipahoa Parish warehouse where several area nursin…

“We’re really concerned, we’re really upset and we’re really focused on making sure that all of these residents are moved to safe places where they can get adequate access to essential services,” said Aly Neel, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health. “We will be taking action against these nursing facilities, and will be making appropriate referrals to law enforcement.”

The patients who were brought to the facility came from seven nursing homes. They are: River Palms Nursing and Rehab in Orleans Parish, South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab in Lafourche Parish, Maison Orleans Healthcare Center in Orleans Parish, Park Place Healthcare Nursing Home in Jefferson Parish, West Jefferson Health Care Center in Jefferson Parish, Maison DeVille Nursing Home in Terrebonne Parish and Maison DeVille Nursing Home of Harvey in Jefferson Parish.

All seven homes are owned by the same man: Bob Dean, known for nursing home ownership and real estate business across Louisiana. Dean did not immediately return messages Thursday.

But his nursing homes have come under intense criticism in the past, including for hurricane evacuation problems. In an echo of this week’s events, two New Orleans-area residents died in 1998 after being evacuated for Hurricane Georges to a Baton Rouge warehouse in a bus that lacked air conditioning, an episode that drew criticism but little in the way of punishment from state regulators.

At the time, Dean was cited for failing to file required evacuation plans in advance of Georges. LDH officials could not immediately say whether Dean had filed the required plans for the seven nursing homes before Ida.

“This is a wakeup call for the state to tighten up accountability for those plans, and not warehouse hundreds of people in a building, piled up in a huge room with insufficient staff to care for them,” said Brian Lee, of Families for Better Care, an advocacy group.

“I’m glad it’s being investigated. There needs to be accountability for everyone on this. Our families deserve better than this.”

Nursing home residents were still being evacuated from a warehouse Thursday afternoon in Independence after four of them died and hundreds wer…

Of Dean’s seven nursing homes, six received one-star ratings from the federal Medicare Nursing Home Compare site, which compiles ratings of up to five stars. The ratings are based on violations documented during federal inspections, staff-to-patient ratios and quality-of-care measures such as the number of pressure sores and emergency department visits patients had.

Over the years, state health inspectors have written up Dean-owned facilities for horrific failings, some of which were described in a 2005 series from The Times-Picayune. One disabled man drowned in a whirlpool after staffers did not check on him for more than two hours. Another resident was hospitalized with more than 500 fire ant bites after the insects had infested her bed. An aide screamed after seeing ants coming in and out of the woman’s nose and into her eyes, the newspaper reported, citing inspection reports.

Through a corporate entity, Dean owns the warehouse where the 800-plus nursing home residents were evacuated to in advance of Hurricane Ida.

Nurses who worked inside the warehouse before, during and after the storm described being haunted by what they had witnessed.


Four nursing home residents died in Tangipahoa Parish at a mass shelter where about 800 residents were reportedly packed into a warehouse for Hurricane Ida. Efforts to evacuate them by ambulance and other vehicles are underway in Independence, Louisiana on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

“They were laying on the floor, in feces, and the blowup mattresses were flat,” said one nurse from South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab, who asked that her name not be published because she feared retribution from administrators in Dean’s nursing home network. “You’d walk past them and they’d say, ‘Help me, help me.’ I ended up vomiting twice because the smell was so bad.”

She and another nurse described conditions in the warehouse growing increasingly dire as the air conditioner stopped working and the 800-plus elderly residents were all in close contact despite concerns about COVID spreading easily through such a facility.

Both nurses lost their homes in Hurricane Ida. But they said they cannot stop thinking about the warehouse.

“I don’t know if I can go back and be a nurse again and that’s what hurts me the most,” one of the nurses said. “I lost my house and I still can’t even comprehend it compared to what I just went through.”

It can be difficult on residents as well as nursing home operators to evacuate a frail population under stressful conditions. But not doing so can also be perilous. Dozens of nursing-home residents died in St. Bernard and Orleans parishes after Hurricane Katrina, when the operators decided to hunker down instead of leaving.

On Thursday, as nursing home residents continued to be rescued, some were carried out in stretchers and others slumped over in wheelchairs. About half a dozen ambulances were lined up outside.

Neel said the state ordered the evacuations from the warehouse, first transporting the most medically vulnerable, like dialysis patients.

Meanwhile, families grew more and more desperate for news about their loved ones once they saw news stories about the nursing home residents inside of the warehouse. Several families who contacted The Advocate | The Times-Picayune said they had received no updates about the conditions of their loved ones since they had evacuated.

Four Louisiana nursing home residents have died and several hundred more have needed rescuing after seven nursing homes sent more than 800 pat…

Twice daily we’ll send you the day’s biggest headlines. Sign up today.

Among them was Lisa Thibodaux, who said her grandmother is a resident of Park Place Nursing Home. She said that staff informed her last week that they were moving her to Tangipahoa Parish.

“They made it sound like they were taking her to a farm,” said Thibodeaux, 53. “And it was a hurricane-proof building, and they had all the medical supplies they needed.”

She has been trying to reach the nursing home for days, but no one has answered the phone. On Thursday, it didn’t ring at all.

State officials said that most patients were moved to a special needs shelter at LSU-Alexandria.

Dr. Joe Kanter, the state’s top health official, said more than 50 patients have been sent to North Oaks Hospital in Hammond over the past two days. He said some patients arrived covered in urine and feces, and the staff didn’t know the patients’ medical history or medications.

“We don’t think they would’ve died had the storm not happened and they weren’t evacuated,” Kanter said.

The Department of Health has advised anyone looking for information on the conditions of their loved ones to contact 2-1-1.

Three of the four deaths at the facility have been classified as “storm related” by the coroner. Definitive causes of death are not yet available. Names and information about the deceased have not been released yet.


Four nursing home residents died in Tangipahoa Parish at a mass shelter where about 800 residents were reportedly packed into a warehouse for Hurricane Ida. Efforts to evacuate them by ambulance and other vehicles are underway in Independence, Louisiana on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Tangipahoa Parish President Robby Miller said he was notified when the patients were set to be transferred from the nursing homes to the backup location in Independence. He was told the facility was designed to hold between 200 to 400 people.

“We were always told it was going to be 300 or so,” he said. “It turned into 800-plus. When the city realized how many were coming, they started getting concerned.”

Over time, Miller said his office began to hear reports about substandard conditions and started to feed the information to LDH, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and other agencies with potential jurisdiction.

“As reports came out about it, we started pushing it up higher and more often in every one of our update calls,” Miller said. “Trying to make sure the state understood what was happening. It came in just too late.”

In a warehouse with over 800 patients, it’s unlikely that four deaths will be the final toll, said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department, referencing similar situations in other disasters.

Dean’s nursing homes have been written up a number of times in recent years.

Over a dozen violations related to patient health at River Palms show that there were issues with hygiene, resulting in patients who went without bathing and had “long fingernails with dark-colored material underneath on both hands,” according to the inspection report. There were also errors in dispensing treatment and unsanitary conditions in both the bathrooms and kitchen, including expired food, dirty kitchen appliances and dusty fans in the food prep area.

Another inspection report from 2019 shows South Lafourche Nursing & Rehab had eight violations related to patient health. One resident complained she went without a shower for five days. An inspector found another patient’s catheter was a month past due for changing. A blind resident fell to the floor when the strap of the mechanical lift ripped from the seam, placing the patient in “immediate jeopardy,” according to a complaint report, because the straps were not checked regularly.


Four nursing home residents died in Tangipahoa Parish at a mass shelter where about 800 residents were reportedly packed into a warehouse for Hurricane Ida. Efforts to evacuate them by ambulance and other vehicles are underway in Independence, Louisiana on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Facilities in an “immediate jeopardy” situation are at risk of losing lose government funding.

At Maison Orleans Healthcare Center, patients got pressure ulcers, indicating a lack of physical therapy to increase blood flow, at nearly four times the rate of the national average in 2019. About 5% of patients got a flu shot who needed one compared to around 80% in other facilities.

During a 2021 visit, staff at Park Place Healthcare in Jefferson Parish told federal inspectors they no longer had enough employees to shower people regularly. One resident’s “hair was matted” and “smelled of urine,” according to the report.

At West Jefferson Health Care Center, an inspection report dated Nov. 6, 2020, found that staff could not explain why a cognitively impaired resident had two black eyes and a bruised and swollen lip. The injuries were not reported or investigated, nor did the patient receive a neurological check as required.

A February 2020 report from Maison DeVille in Houma noted 13 health inspection violations, many related to basic infection prevention practices. A nurse incorrectly wiped a patient from back to front, which can spread bacteria and cause urinary tract infections. The nurse used the same washcloth to wipe down a catheter.

A second Maison DeVille facility in Harvey received nine violations related to emergency preparedness in October 2020, including a lack of testing for fire alarm and sprinkler systems. The average number of violations in Louisiana is less than one.

Staff Writers Gordon Russell and Blake Paterson contributed to this report. 

Purchases made via links on our site may earn us an affiliate commission