NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Even before the worst of the hurricanes lands, electricity is usually one of the first victims of the winds and puts the elderly at risk.
Power outages caused by Hurricane Ida claimed the lives of some seniors. And the Louisiana Department of Health and the City of New Orleans have taken action in hopes of protecting as many residents as possible this hurricane season.
In Ida’s wake, more than 800 nursing home residents were evacuated to a warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish and some people had no idea that their loved ones had been taken there by their respective nursing homes.
“I didn’t know if my mother was dead or alive,” Renetta Derosia said.
The Louisiana Department of Health investigated complaints of inhuman conditions at the warehouse and evacuated residents of the nursing home.
Now the nursing home owner and the seven nursing homes are excluded from participating in federal health care programs.
Kenneth Kraft is with the Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
“HHS stands guard. We will do what it takes to protect our programs and our beneficiaries,” Kraft said.
The Louisiana Nursing Home Association says there are about 22,000 people in nursing homes in the state.
Stephen Russo is legal counsel for LDH and also director of legal compliance, audit and regulation for the agency. LDH licenses retirement homes and revoked the licenses of the seven retirement homes that were evacuated to the warehouse.
“Any time you have human suffering and death on the scale that you had at the Waterbury site in Independence, of course what you want to do as a state agency that licenses these entities, c is that you want to learn from it,” Russo said.
He said the LDH had asked for outside help.
“What we did immediately after the Waterbury incident was we hired a consultancy company that looked at our processes and found out where we could make improvements,” Russo said. “We then immediately reconstituted the Care Home Emergency Preparedness Review Committee and brought some of the consultancy firm’s ideas to that committee.”
And the legislation pushes the state legislature to give the LDH the power to approve emergency preparedness plans for nursing homes.
“The thrust of this legislation gives LDH the ability to approve nursing home emergency preparedness plans. What it will also do is that instead of being limited to the 22 parishes in the lower part of the state, it will require nursing homes across the state to file their emergency preparedness plans with from the Department of Health for approval,” Russo said.
State Representative Joe Stagni is the author of HB 933.
“And we wanted redundancy of approval not only from LDH but also from the local emergency preparedness office as well as the state fire marshal,” Stagni said.
Legislation also requires disposal sites to be inspected in advance.
“In order to try to guard against the tragedy that occurred at the Waterbury warehouse for any nursing home that has an evacuation site, either a primary site or a non-provider type secondary site approved, the department will come out at least twice and inspect that site,” Russo said.
That aside, Russo said the state health department has already begun inspections of unlicensed evacuation sites provided to LDH by nursing homes in the 22 lower parishes.
“They have longstanding relationships with maybe schools, maybe churches, maybe other places like that, that aren’t approved by the department, but that doesn’t necessarily mean either that they are not safe places for individuals to evacuate to for a short period of time,” Russo said.
And he said they would also review shelter-in-place plans.
“If they have proper power and supply,” Russo said.
Ida has also had an impact on assisted living facilities and senior housing complexes.
Dr. Jennifer Avegno is director of the New Orleans Department of Health.
“They don’t have the same kind of responsibilities to their residents, however, these are residents that we found, when you’re without power for a few days, these are the ones who are very, very vulnerable to the effects of heat and so unfortunately we, although we identified a lot of inhabitants and were able to help them, some died because they did not leave, they did not have the resources and their buildings really became uninhabitable quickly” , said Avegno.
Avegno says the city took action ahead of this hurricane season.
“So there’s now an order on the books from the fall that says, if you’re in an apartment building, living independently again but that building has a significant number of elderly residents, they receive federal funds to support low-income people. seniors or permanent housing support who, that management must have a plan. They need to know who’s in the building, they need to know who needs special equipment, so in the event of a power outage, who might be at high risk because they can’t run their oxygen machine or their electric wheelchair. They must also provide the name and contact details of a person who will be staying at the premises. It was a big deal,” she said.
Avegno says its department with facilities.
“We worked, the Department of Health, the Department of Homeland Security worked with all of these facilities to help them. It’s not designed to be punitive,” Avegno said.
FOX 8 asked Russo if assisted living facilities are state-licensed.
“Yes ma’am they are and they also have emergency preparedness plans, assisted living although the residents are not as frail as nursing home residents so a lot of these people have their own transportation to evacuate or what we find is a lot of times they will evacuate with immediate family members,” he said.
He and Avegno are urging everyone to prepare now for hurricane season.
“Be an advocate for your loved ones. Nursing homes are required by rule and regulation to let you know where they plan to evacuate, so you should inquire about this. You need to make sure your contact details are up to date with these nursing homes,” Russo said.
“Certainly our message is always to have a plan and to include the most vulnerable members of the family in that plan,” Avegno said. “Make sure your loved ones have at least 30 days of medication.”
FOX asked Russo if the LDH is ready to evacuate nursing home residents this hurricane season.
“Yes absolutely. As part of the site visit to unlicensed sites, one of the officers and team members here at the department is already looking at potential staging areas, potential triage areas,” Russo said.
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