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City officials work to make independent senior living safer after 5 people died in Ida aftermath

Councilmember Kristen Palmer is drafting an ordinance with more regulation.
Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 9:24 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Leaders in New Orleans say they’re looking at ways to make independent senior living facilities safer after they say five people died from negligence during Ida’s aftermath.

“This is about humanity,” one resident, Queen Lassai, said.

Queen Lassai had to jump into action the night of the storm.

“The older people in there was screaming my name but I couldn’t go, it wasn’t really easy to get around so I’m feeling on the wall to get around, I get a few people, and huddled together with them.

She’s one of the many independent living facility residents across the city fighting to be heard after watching her building collapse into chaos, darkness and unbearable heat, with no manager in sight and no communication.

“It was like something out of some other space world,” Queen Lassai said.

The New Orleans Department of Health has evaluated 32 facilities so far and closed nine while evacuating the residents.

“We have identified pretty significant deferred maintenance, all of these facilities, lots of work done without permits, things that really is it’s just, just basic building management,” Peter Bowen, Deputy C.A.O. for New Orleans, said.

The City has formed a strike team to inspect all of these buildings, looking under every building-code-stone, because they do not have the same oversight as nursing homes.

“We all know that you can be independent in a wheelchair and a walker or on oxygen, if you can get around and use an elevator and if you have the resources to come and go,” Palmer said. “As soon as the electricity is out, and this particular person that that passed away was on oxygen, you know, then you don’t have independence anymore.”

Councilmember Kristen Palmer announced her plan to fill the policy gap at Annunciation Inn, where a man on the second floor died in all of this.

“We were, quite frankly, horrified at the conditions in this building, but also at basically where the management office was, it was empty,” Palmer described. “There’s just a posting on the window that says ‘we suggest that you evacuate and if you don’t have family, call 311 and we have a generator. It might last for six days, it may not.’”

The ordinance would add independent living to the same classification of residential care facilities, requiring a license and annual inspections.

It would mandate an evacuation plan to be submitted to the city and if building management chooses to stay during a storm, it requires them to have 24 hour management on site, a contact number posted as well as generator plans to keep elevators up and running.

Also, a daily manifest of residents and a master key. Things Palmer says were missing when they had to go door to door to rescue residents trapped in the dark and heat.

The ordinance would also give the city the ability to not renew the facility’s license if they did not comply or pass inspection.

“We shouldn’t be at this point, hurricanes are not new to us in New Orleans,” Queen Lassai said.

This is just a drafted ordinance. Palmer says she will be taking it to City administration as well as the Health Department for their additions to make sure it is comprehensive.

Her goal is to have it in place for the rest of this hurricane season.

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