A fifth nursing home resident who had been transferred to a Tangipahoa Parish warehouse ahead of Hurricane Ida has died.
Health officials had linked four deaths to the facility in Independence when they reported Thursday that conditions required them to remove the 843 nursing home residents who were transferred there from south Louisiana. The Rapides Parish coroner on Friday reported another death linked to the facility, and said an autopsy is required.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana attorney general's office has launched an investigation.
Public health officials began relocating the evacuees on Wednesday after staff turned investigators away from the facility in Independence, a small town in Tangipahoa Parish.
The Louisiana Department of Public Health learned the patients had been evacuated from seven nursing homes throughout the southern part of the state ahead of the storm. Over the course of six days before their rescue, conditions deteriorated to the point that the evacuees were left begging for help in squalor, amid overflowing toilets and piled-up trash.
LDH announced the rescue on Thursday and moved many of those inside to facilities around the state. One of those sent to a shelter at Alexandria died, the Rapides Parish coroner said Friday
Dr. Jonathan Hunter said two Hurricane Ida evacuees from the New Orleans area died in Alexandria, one apparently from natural causes and the other being someone apparently moved after staying in the warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish. That death will require an autopsy.
“That’s where we are right now, two deaths,” Hunter said Friday afternoon. “The first one was natural causes. The second one is up in the air, pending.”
In Independence on Friday, the building where the nursing home residents stayed remained cordoned off with crime scene tape and surrounded by police cars.
In announcing his probe Friday afternoon, the attorney general said he wanted to find out who was responsible.
"Our goal will be to determine who decided to move these patients to this apparently unsafe and potentially inappropriate facility," Attorney General Jeff Landry said. "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."
Earlier Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards had said the owner of the nursing homes involved had an obligation to move the residents to better conditions once things deteriorated inside the warehouse, but that the nursing home staff appeared dedicated to the patients' care.
"What he did was try to prevent the Department of Health from coming back in to ascertain the condition of those residents earlier this week," Edwards said.
"I also have no doubts that there were plenty people who worked for those nursing homes who were staffing those residents who did everything they could under those conditions to provide the very best of care that was possible. The fact that it wasn’t possible to do better by them indicated that they really shouldn’t have stayed it that place as long as they were, certainly not since the conditions deteriorated," the governor said.
At his direction, the Louisiana Department of Health took necessary life-saving action to evacuate hundreds of people out of extremely dangerous conditions, after the agency was denied entry into the facility by its management. The governor demanded a complete investigation by law enforcement including Louisiana State Police and health officials.
LDH had inspected the scene before Hurricane Ida hit. But on Tuesday, two days after the storm, its agents were kept from entering the facility.
Wednesday and Thursday, the department worked to remove the 843 people who had been sent there from nursing homes owned by the same Baton Rouge businessman.
Louisiana State Police vehicles were parked at entrances to the property on Friday, and also near the warehouse doors behind bands of yellow tape that read "Crime Scene: Do Not Cross," and "Police Line Do Not Cross."
Until Hurricane Ida came ashore Sunday, the storm was expected to move west of Baton Rouge. Instead, the storm's center shifted northward and came within 15 miles of the warehouse in Independence, putting the community on the strongest side of the hurricane's eyewall.
Downed trees and massive piles of wooden debris sat in some parts of town Friday.
Staff writer Ken Stickney contributed to this report.