Coronavirus file photo stock of ambulance

A patient wears a protective face mask as she is loaded into an ambulance at The Brooklyn Hospital Center emergency room, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in New York. Anticipating a spike in coronavirus patients, New York City-area hospitals cleared beds, set up new spaces to triage patients and urged people with mild symptoms to consult health professionals by phone or video chat instead of flooding emergency rooms that could be overrun. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

State health officials are investigating a New Roads nursing home where nine current or former residents have died from the illness tied to the novel coronavirus.

Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health said the investigation of Pointe Coupee Healthcare involves the "care and services" it provides. Department spokesman Kevin Litten said further information couldn't be disclosed at this time.

Parish officials said Tuesday, however, that they too had been informed the 120-bed nursing home was under investigation and that state health officials conducted an infection control assessment and response survey last week.

Pointe Coupee Parish President Major Thibaut said he has been contacted by family members of residents who had expressed concerns about the nursing home's operations. Thibaut said he also had been in contact with the state health department.

"We trust that the right agency that has jurisdiction over that home is doing their job to make sure that they have proper protocols in place, that they have the proper equipment that they need and that they have the proper number of employees that they need," Thibaut said. "And if they don't, that they will help supply them with what they need, so they can meet the needs of our people." 

According to federal guidelines, an assessment is used to look at infection prevention practices, find any gaps in those practices and then guide activities that lead to improvement in infection control.

In a statement earlier this month, officials working for the management company that the runs Pointe Coupee Healthcare said they were fighting the coronavirus as other nursing homes across the state had been and were implementing all federal and state protocols. At the time of the statement, nursing home officials said the facility had 104 residents.

The New Roads nursing home is part of chain of 16 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in Louisiana owned and run through Plantation Management Co., which is based in Denham Springs, the company website says.

Buster Quirk and Scott Quirk, two top officials with Plantation Management, sit on the board of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, the association website says. The association is a nonprofit trade organization that advocates for nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Louisiana, a politically powerful industry in the state. 

Thibaut added that parish officials had reached out to the facility a couple of weeks ago also to share residents' concerns and to see if they needed personal protective equipment.

After initially declining to accept the extra supplies, nursing home officials later accepted some, he said.

Thibaut said he was disappointed in how Pointe Coupee Healthcare dealt with the growing number of cases, calling it a "damn shame."

"And they have misled family members of the people who were in there. For weeks, they were told, 'We don't have any cases.' For weeks, they were told, 'Everything is fine,'" he said.

The nursing home did not specifically reply to Thibaut's allegation, but in a statement its officials said they have been communicating with federal and state regulators and the nursing home's "residents, families, and staff regularly."

In Louisiana and nationally, the coronavirus has hit the aged and often fragile populations in nursing homes and other adult care facilities the hardest.

As of Monday, more than a third of all deaths from the COVID-19 illness tied to the viral pandemic in Louisiana and nearly 11% of cases in the state were of residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The Pointe Coupee Parish Coroner's Office said this month that one wing of the nursing home had a number of cases. At the time, six residents from the facility had died from COVID-19.

Since then, three more people who were residents of the nursing home have died from COVID-19, boosting the parishwide total to 15, according a listing from the Coroner's Office.

In all, nearly 60% of all Pointe Coupee Parish deaths tied to COVID-19 have occurred among Pointe Coupee Heathcare's current or former residents, the coroner's latest tally shows.

All the parish's coronavirus deaths have involved people with underlying health conditions. Among those conditions, all people who died had high blood pressure, said Ty Chaney, chief investigator for the Coroner's Office. 

Two of the deaths in Pointe Coupee were residents of another nursing home in the parish, Lakeview Manor, but none since the last died on April 21, according to the Coroner's Office listing.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.