GRETNA, La. — Carolyn McNulty says when she asked the management at the Louisiana nursing home where her 96-year-old mother lived what their emergency plans were for Hurricane Ida, she was told if the storm reached Category 3 or higher, the residents would be evacuated to nearby Independence.
“They didn’t tell me it was going to be a warehouse,” McNulty, 69, a New Orleans-area native, said.
The ensuing events prompted a nightmare scenario, she said, that made her go sleepless for days.
Her mother, Evelyn Harden, who is blind and has dementia, was under the care of Park Place Healthcare LLC, located in the suburb of Gretna, when Ida tore a vicious path through southern Louisiana.
Nearly 850 residents from seven different nursing homes, including Park Place, were transported to a warehouse where video later showed them on mattresses as floodwater washed through the building.
Furthermore, records from the Environmental Protection Agency indicate the previous tenant in the building was a pest control company who had been required to submit documentation due to a qualifying level of toxic substances.
“My daughter saw a short story from a reporter and she forwarded it to me, and that’s when I found out that my mom was in [the warehouse] and that’s when we started making our calls,” McNulty explained, saying that she was “horrified” by what her mother endured.
She said her mother couldn’t be located until she was tracked down a couple of days later in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about 60 miles from the warehouse.
McNulty, a retired hospital technician, says she has no idea how her mother got there, and says communication from the nursing home was nonexistent.
“She said she was hungry, and she was scared.”
In the aftermath of the storm, seven residents evacuated to the warehouse died, and the Louisiana Health Department revoked the licenses of the nursing homes, all owned by Bob Dean.
NBC News reached out to Dean more than a dozen times without receiving a response, leaving voicemails for him and various staff members.
Both the Louisiana Health Department and the state Attorney General’s Office are investigating. A request for an interview with the health department was denied, with an agency spokesperson replying, “this is an active investigation with pending litigation.”
At a news conference this week, Stephen Russo, with the health department, said of the evacuation, the broad parameters of which were approved by the state, “there is no emergency preparedness plan that allows for residents to be kept in such an unsafe, unsanitary and unhealthy condition.”
For McNulty, the focus now turns to one thing: accountability.
“I would like to see the owner punished, and I would like to see the state step up,” she said. “The state of Louisiana did not step up for my mother, and I’m just one of the lucky ones that after two days I know where my mom is being cared for.”
Harden is currently residing in a nursing home in Lafayette, Louisiana, about a two-hour drive from her original location at Park Place. Her daughter says she will never return to Park Place.
When Dean’s company took over the nursing home care from the previous owner last fall, McNulty says, she received a letter, which she showed to a reporter.
It reads in part, “Park Place has committed to providing our residents with compassionate care and meaningful activities that will enhance the total quality of life. We are also committed to provide loving, dignified care to our residents and promote excellence to meet the needs of our diverse population.”
Sam Brock is an NBC News correspondent.
Jamie Morrison is an NBC News producer based in Atlanta.