BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — New state legislation could better protect our most vulnerable population during a natural disaster.
This is after a poor evacuation plan of over 800 nursing home residents turned fatal in Tangipahoa Parish during Hurricane Ida. State representatives are now calling for a change.
Senate Bill 167 read in front of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare this Wednesday would change how nursing homes’ emergency plans are reviewed and submitted.
“The law requires they submit a plan, but who is looking at the plan to see if it’s viable or not, or if it makes sense,” said Sen. Kirk Talbot.
If passed, this bill would allow the State Fire Marshals to review the evacuation locations instead of the Louisiana Department of Health. State Fire Marshal Chief Butch Browning says he jumped at the opportunity.
“We are talking about caring for people who need to be cared for, so our office certainly wants to be doing that,” Browning said.
The bill was inspired in the wake of a tragedy. Hundreds of nursing homes residents were evacuated to a location that was not equipped to handle that capacity during Hurricane Ida.
“They evacuated to a place that doesn’t have power, doesn’t have air conditioning, doesn’t have the proper facilities to take care of these elderly patients, and tragically, you know, a number of them died,” Talbot said.
Seven nursing homes owned by Bob Dean were shut down after the disaster, and several lawsuits were filed against Dean followed. Talbot asked who approved the evacuation plans from Dean’s nursing homes, but was unable to get a clear answer.
“How did this happen, who approved that evacuation plan to go to this facility, to this building — no power, no air conditioning, not enough port-a-lets, not enough health care to be provided with these people?” Talbot asked. “And I would just like to say we didn’t get a satisfactory answer, we didn’t get an answer, period.”
The concern about finances came up by the committee. Browning said they are equipped to take on this responsibility so that another tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.
“It just really makes sense that we use our resources to be a partner in this and really create a unified standard one-stop-shop across the state,” Browning said.
“The suffering these people endured was appalling and that should never ever happen again in this day in age in America, and clearly if they had just stayed where they were they would have been far better off,” Talbot said.
Talbot said the next step for the bill is to go to the Senate floor, possibly as soon as next week.