• Swamp Watch

It’s Not Just Hurricanes: Abuse, Complaints Plague Louisiana Nursing Homes

Many Louisiana nursing homes have long faced allegations of abuse and neglect.

Check out Part I of our series on Louisiana nursing homes here.

In light of the nursing home tragedy at the warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish, where the Louisiana Department of Health now confirms 15 patients have died, we took a look at the previous failures of Louisiana nursing homes to protect their patients during hurricanes. Sadly, botched evacuations are not the only problems that plague Louisiana nursing homes. AARP ranked Louisiana nursing homes 50th in the nation for “quality of life and quality of care”, and you don't have to dig far to see why. The stories of abuse, neglect, theft, and exploitation of the elderly in nursing home care are numerous, and today we will take a look at many of those.

In 2012, the John J. Hainkel, Jr. Home in Uptown New Orleans had its license revoked and Medicaid funding cut off, following a state investigation. This facility had been in jeopardy of losing federal funding four times, and the state investigation found “6 instances of immediate jeopardy”. Among the issues the state found: an office manager yelling at and stealing $800 from a blind patient, failing to report a patient receiving second-degree burns from their shower, not following abuse reporting policy "after a patient suffered from seizures was allegedly left alone in her room, and failing to administer medication to residents. While a judge later ruled that the home could remain open, the home never denied the results of the state investigation, saying “Every nursing home in the state has deficiencies”.

The numerous deficiencies at nursing homes in Louisiana caught the eye of federal regulators in 2019, when 5 Louisiana nursing homes were revealed to be on the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services list of homes eligible for additional scrutiny, due to failing to meet health and safety standards. The deficiencies revealed were shocking:

  • Staff failing to provide CPR to a patient found unresponsive at St. Helena Parish Nursing Home

  • Unsanitary conditions and insects in the kitchen at Lake Charles Care Center

  • A pest problem at South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab, also one of the 7 homes to have its licensed suspended after the disastrous Hurricane Ida evacuation

  • “Immediate jeopardy” situation at Tioga Community Care Center, after a patient lost nearly 30 pounds in 2 months, and doctors’ orders were not followed for their care

  • Failing to protect a paraplegic resident, after his roommate twice attempted to suffocate him at Belle Maison Nursing Home. His family was also not notified about the suffocation attempts.

In addition to the five nursing homes selected for additional scrutiny, CMS also flagged three Louisiana nursing homes for “abuse, neglect, or exploitation” in a new warning system for consumers in 2019. While the nursing home industry spoke out against the new system, consumer and patient advocates praised the move. The documented abuses include:

  • Landmark Nursing Center in Hammond, where a male resident inappropriately touched a cognitively impaired female patient, and was unsupervised near her even after staff discovered the abuse

  • Legacy Nursing and Rehabilitation in Port Allen, where a nurse slapped, kicked, and pushed a resident, and another staff member who witnessed the abuse did not immediately report it

  • St. Martin de Porres Multi-Care Center in Lake Charles, where staff members allegedly took $7,000 from one patient’s trust fund, and stole $9,400 from another

While these stories drew attention from federal regulators, there are countless other stories of abuse in nursing homes across the state. Those abuses include rape, sexual battery, theft, and neglect. In 2017, a CNN report documenting nursing home abuses across the country included the story of a 78 year old resident who was allegedly raped by the chef at Beau Provence Memory Care in Mandeville. The director of the facility was also later arrested for engaging in a cover-up, after allegedly telling staff not to report the incident. At Guest House Nursing and Rehabilitation in West Monroe, a nursing home assistant faced multiple charges for “verbal, physical, and sexual abuse” of a patient with Alzheimer's. The assistant allegedly told another worker to “watch this” as he touched the patient’s genitals, saying "Look. He always gets aroused when I do that...with his nasty self." The assistant later allegedly slapped the victim, placed a sheet over his head, and began to move the patient rapidly in a lift, saying "Throw that cracker in the lake." The staff member who witnessed the incident reported it that night. These are among the most tragic stories of abuse, but not the only ones to end in criminal charges

In 2017, an employee at Leslie Lakes Retirement Center in Arcadia was arrested after allegedly stealing nearly $400,000 from a resident. The theft occurred over more than 3 years, with the employee stealing from the residents’ bank account, IRA, annuity plan, and the sale of their house. This particular employee had previously been accused of abusing her position at the facility in December 2013, when she was arrested for allegedly taking and using the cell phone of a deceased resident. Despite those charges, she remained employed by the facility. While these criminal cases reveal significant abuses, state regulators have uncovered issues at even more nursing homes.

After a 2020 WBRZ investigation into Point Coupee Healthcare following an early surge of COVID-19 deaths, a “strike team” of the Attorney General’s office, the Louisiana Department of Health, the National Guard, and the Federal Health Standards Agency looked into the quality of care at the New Roads nursing home. The investigations came after numerous complaints of neglect from the families of patients. WBRZ found that, prior to the complaints and COVID deaths, the facility had been cited 13 times by inspectors over the previous 3 years. In 2019, the facility was fined $36,000 for “failing to timely report suspected abuse and neglect”. They had also been cited in 2018 for not following federal standards to prevent the spread of disease. In 2019, the Attorney General’s office also launched an investigation into Iberville Oaks Nursing & Rehab after a WAFB report documenting alleged neglect at the home. Documents from the Louisiana Department of Health revealed that the home was “not in substantial compliance” with LDH policies in several areas, including failing to report and investigate abuse, failing to protect residents after abuse, failing to implement quality of care measures, not answering residents’ call lights, and discrimination and reprisal against residents for voicing complaints.

Several other nursing homes have had issues emerge in recent years, thanks to the vocal efforts of patients and their families. The Donaldsonville Chief covered the complaints of patients at Chateau D’Ville Rehab and Retirement, where a blind patient battling cancer claimed, right before his death, “they said I push the button too much”. The family of the patient also claimed that nurses removed the button from his bed and threw it on the floor, before relocating his call button out of reach, at the foot of the bed. The complaint filed by a friend of the patient also alleged theft, mistreatment, and neglect at the facility. In Natchitoches, a lawsuit over the handling of COVID-19 at Natchitoches Nursing and Rehab brought to light past issues at the facility. That facility had been cited numerous times, including a $6,893 fine in 2019 by Medicare. The citations included not providing enough staff, not notifying families when taking patients offsite, allowing patients’ medication to run out, failing to properly lock-up narcotics- some of which went missing, dropping a patient and not monitoring his condition, and a resident being hospitalized with pneumonia and fever after contracting a urinary tract infection when her catheter was not properly monitored.

Elderly Louisianans and their families rely on nursing homes to provide dignity of life and quality care. Unfortunately, these stories show that far too often, nursing homes in Louisiana fail in that mission. We will continue to examine the status of the nursing home industry in Louisiana, and the political influence that shields the industry and blocks alternatives to quality patient care.

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