NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The death toll has risen from seven to 15 among nursing home residents evacuated before Hurricane Ida to a warehouse where conditions were found too squalid for safety, the state health department said Thursday.
However, a department statement noted that some deaths may be unrelated to the storm or conditions in the warehouse.
“As time passes and given the health conditions that required a nursing home level of care, unfortunately the number of deaths among this group is likely to increase,” it said. “That is why it is important to make a distinction between the number of total deaths regardless of cause and the number of storm-related deaths.”
The number that coroners have classified as storm-related remains at five, Department of Health spokesman Kevin Litten said in an email. He said coroners are investigating others.
John McLindon, attorney for Bob Dean, who owns seven nursing homes evacuated to the warehouse, said he is confident that Dean will be cleared.
“There’s no evidence that the evacuation caused or contributed to any of these deaths,” he said.
The health department has said that 843 people were brought to the warehouse in the town of Independence, and more than 50 of them had to be hospitalized afterward.
Authorities said the warehouse stank of urine and feces, with some people lying in dirty clothes, without food, on mattresses on the floor. Trash was piled on the floor, there was water in the building and generators at least temporarily failed, state officials said.
McLindon said he will appeal the department’s revocation of Dean’s nursing home licenses and Medicaid provider agreements by the Oct. 6 deadline.
The first five deaths were all among people on hospice treatment, he said. “When you’re in hospice, you’re at the end of your life,” McLindon said.
The state attorney general has begun a criminal investigation, and state health officials are investigating the deaths.
Dean has told news outlets that, given their age and frailty, two or three people at his homes have died daily under normal circumstances.
Dean is facing at least five lawsuits from nursing home residents and their families, the newspaper reported.