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Ida evacuee's wife says conditions at Louisiana warehouse led to leg amputation

The wife said doctors told her he had developed Gangrene, likely from his foot sitting in water.

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Terry Hicks was still dealing with Hurricane Ida damage to her Louisiana home when her brother sent her a picture. Next to an article in The Advocate about unsafe conditions for nursing home evacuees at a warehouse was the photo of her husband, Andrew Terry.

"We see him in the picture. He is so, so distressed. And we just, I just couldn't do nothing," Hicks said through tears.

Terry Hicks, 58, spoke to sister station WDSU Tuesday night – hours before Andrew, 59, would go into surgery the following morning to have his leg amputated. When she finally tracked him early this week at the waiting area of the emergency room, doctors told her they were relieved she showed up to provide his medical history because they had no medical records for him. He had developed Gangrene, she said they told her, likely from his foot sitting in water.

When she first saw him in the ER waiting area, she said, something was different about her husband.

"Andrew is a jolly, lovable person all around person… His nickname is Huggy. Everybody knows him as Huggy. And that was not Huggy," Terry Hicks said. "He is very traumatized. He is very traumatized. I hate to see him like this.

"And due to the neglect to get his leg amputated tomorrow morning, and that really hurts."

Terry Hicks said Wednesday the surgery went well and her husband was recovering. His leg was amputated above the knee.

Conditions at the facility, from which state health officials eventually "rescued" the nursing home residents, included mattresses on the floor where standing water stood, missing medical records, a stench from not functional toilets and patients left to lay in their own soil.

"Our senior citizens deserve better than this," said Louisiana State Sen. Kirk Talbot, who called the six deaths of evacuated residents and conditions that may have led to the deaths, “outrageous.”

He said he wants to make changes to the nursing home industry, starting with a law requiring enough backup power at nursing homes to keep vulnerable people safe after a storm.

After as many as 12 nursing home residents died in Florida after Hurricane Irma, that state adopted a law in 2018 requiring backup power to keep nursing homes at 81 degrees or lower for at least four days. Talbot said he would like to match or exceed that standard, though he "absolutely" expects the Louisiana Nursing Home Association to fight the bill "tooth and nail" because of the cost of such an investment.

'The nursing home has that much power'

"There is a political angle to this and that the nursing home people, management groups, owners are widely believed to be one of the top political contributing groups for politicians," said former Louisiana State Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie.

Appel and Talbot both previously tried to change state laws so federal dollars can follow patients to a home setting, rather than limiting it to nursing homes. When it was clear his bill didn’t have support at the last legislative session, Talbot says he watered it down by ordering a study of home care. The bill died.

"We don’t vote against study resolutions in the legislature. But the nursing home has that much power to kill a study resolution," Talbot said.

Louisiana Nursing Home Association Executive Director Mark Berger said in a statement nursing homes are federally required to have, "emergency and standby power systems." The majority of LNHA’s members have large enough generators to enough to operate H-VAC systems, he said, but that amount of backup power isn’t required.

Berger said he can't speak to the seven nursing homes owned by Baton Rouge real estate investor Bob Dean, whose residents ended up at the Tangipahoa Parish warehouse where Hicks was taken. Berger said Dean is not an association member.

No one from Dean's company returned WDSU’s messages.

Louisiana law requires nursing homes to submit evacuation and other emergency preparedness plans to the state for approval. Records show the state asks the homes to submit information about a generator if they have one — but doesn't require backup power. State health officials said the nursing homes evacuated to the Tangipahoa warehouse broke rules when they took them there in those conditions, then kicked out a health inspector responding to complaints.

"We have to have a very deep commitment to changing the structure of our regulations and our laws, focused on the people on the nursing home patients not focused on the nursing home operators and owners," Appel said.

Talbot said he would also like to make sure nursing employees have legal protections so they can feel comfortable reporting abuse or neglect.

"The powerful lobby is just going to step out of the way and we're going to do what's right to protect our citizens," Talbot said.

Asked about the LNHA's influence over the state legislature, Berger said, "Louisiana’s legislators understand the need for nursing facilities, as they provide critical care to our most vulnerable population... Many legislators have seen firsthand the exceptional quality care provided when visiting their local nursing facilities."

Terry Hicks said she's not sure what the family's plan will be after her husband recovers, since his nursing home lost its license. He's had been in the home just about a year, needing care while she works after having a stroke in 2015. She supports the generator proposal, she said, and wonders if it could have spared her husband's loss of dignity.

“It seems like they wasn't treated like human beings. Who would do that, really? People wouldn't even do that to their dog. So how could they do that to our loved ones? How could they do that? And that's not fair. It's not fair,” Terry Hicks said.

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Read LNHA Executive Director Mark Berger's full statement to WDSU, below:

"Louisiana Nursing Home Association (LNHA) member nursing facilities take their responsibilities very seriously in times of disaster and are federally required to meet several stringent emergency preparedness requirements, including maintaining an emergency preparedness plan and installing and maintaining emergency and standby power systems. The majority of Louisiana nursing facilities have installed and maintain backup generators capable of powering HVAC units. Providing quality care, safety and compassion for residents is always the number one priority, especially during times of disaster. I cannot speak to what happened and what plans were in place for the reported incident in Tangipahoa Parish, as the facilities are not LNHA members. In the hours and days following the reported incident in Tangipahoa Parish, LNHA stepped in and assisted the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) to safely place the affected residents in shelters and nursing facilities.

More than 20,000 Louisianians require the high level of medical care provided around the clock by or under the direct supervision of licensed health professionals. Thousands of LNHA member nursing facility staff members continue to work tirelessly and selflessly to protect the health and safety of their residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Louisiana’s legislators understand the need for nursing facilities, as they provide critical care to our most vulnerable population. When families must make difficult decisions for their loved ones, our member nursing facilities provide compassionate care that they can depend on and trust. Many legislators have seen firsthand the exceptional quality care provided when visiting their local nursing facilities."