State officials are pursuing new state regulations to protect nursing home residents from scenarios such as the one that contributed to 15 resident deaths after they evacuated to a warehouse during Hurricane Ida. More than 800 residents from seven facilities were transferred to the building, which was later shut down over squalid conditions.

In addition to prosecuting the owner of those facilities and revoking his licenses — a measure still being fought in court — the state is overhauling both its emergency planning requirements and broader oversight measures.

Groups representing nursing home owners there say some of the proposed changes will further stretch nursing home staff during future emergencies or potentially impact access to care over the long-term.

Mark Berger, executive director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, is concerned about how hard the Louisiana Department of Health could come down on those who violate the new rules. He asked officials to add another avenue for appealing evacuation violations that lead to the revocation of licenses.

Berger’s comments came during a meeting of the department’s nursing home emergency preparedness plan review committee, whose new rules would go into effect next May. 

Currently, appeals of nursing home license revocations involve a lengthy process before an administrative law judge. That’s where the case of warehouse and former nursing home owner Bob Dean, stripped of his licenses and his ability to bill federal agencies for patient care, rests now.

Berger wants the state to add a secondary, less formal appeals process within the health department.

Also, Scott Crabtree with Lambeth House Retirement Community in New Orleans spoke against a requirement for nursing homes to establish a hotline for families to call and find residents after a storm or other disaster.

“Our website is where we want everyone to go [for that information],” Crabtree said, as reported by local media. “If you are requiring us to have a telephone number, I think that is going to be a challenge. … Who is going to man this phone number? Where is he going to be?”

In the Ida case, Dean has been charged in Tangipahoa Parish with eight felony counts of cruelty to persons with infirmities, five felony counts of Medicaid fraud and two felony counts of obstruction of justice.

While his legal team had worked out a tentative, roughly $15 million settlement with survivors and their families, a judge on Tuesday slowed that process.

Some family members asked for more time to assess Dean’s net worth, noting that the arranged settlement would force only Dean’s insurer to pay and essentially let him off the hook financially.

“It is so grossly unfair that he can walk away without paying a dollar,” said plaintiff’s attorney Morris Bart, who was quoted by local television stations. 

Judge Michael Mentz delayed the case by 30 days, with the next hearing scheduled for Nov. 2.

Louisiana’s efforts to head off another catastrophe like the one that impacted Dean’s residents include more detailed reviews of evacuation sites; explicit rules about sanitation at such sites; and evaluation of risks of flood and overheating.

Inspections conducted this spring showed 16 low-lying nursing homes’ plans wouldn’t meet the new standards, but the state is powerless to compel changes until the finalized rules take effect. State officials revealed at last week’s hearing, however, that all but six nursing homes had voluntarily updated their plans in response to the department’s concerns.