By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator
Louisiana is expected to adopt a new set of rules for nursing home emergency preparedness under legislation Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration drafted that state lawmakers approved earlier this week.
House Bill 933, by Rep. Joe Stagni, R-Kenner, gives the Louisiana Department of Health the authority to block nursing home licenses if their emergency preparedness plans are deemed inadequate.
The measure is a response to the botched evacuation of seven southeast Louisiana nursing homes for Hurricane Ida. Owner Bob Dean moved more than 800 residents from those sites to a Tangipahoa Parish warehouse, where there was a shortage of food, staff and clean laundry.
The health department was eventually forced to rescue hundreds of medically fragile people from the warehouse. Fifteen nursing home residents died in the aftermath, with at least five deaths attributed to the evacuation.
The debacle raised questions about how closely state and local governments scrutinize nursing home evacuation plans. At the time, health department officials said their agency reviewed the homes’ evacuation plans, but that they weren’t responsible for approving them. Stagni’s legislation is meant to create more accountability.
In addition to the health department, the state fire marshal and local emergency preparedness officials will vet nursing home evacuation plans under the incoming law. The state’s nursing home emergency preparedness plan review committee – made up mostly of state officials and nursing home owners – will also have oversight.
The legislation also mandates annual inspections of nursing homes’ “unlicensed” evacuation sites, places that aren’t other nursing homes or medical facilities. These sites would have included Dean’s warehouse, had it not been shut down after Hurricane Ida.
Nursing homes in Louisiana’s 22 most hurricane-prone parishes must submit new emergency preparedness plans to the state health department by Sept.1. The health department will then have to either approve or reject those proposals by May 15, 2023.
Nursing homes in the 42 other parishes will go through the same process and timeline for emergency preparedness plan approval by May 15, 2024.
In the years that follow, all nursing homes – regardless of parish – will have to submit their updates to their emergency plans by Nov. 1.
State lawmakers also approved two other bills that work with Stagni’s legislation to regulate nursing home evacuations.
Senate Bill 167, from Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, requires the state fire marshal to inspect nursing home evacuation sites. House Bill 291, by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, reiterates that the health department has to approve all nursing home emergency preparedness plans.