Daughter tells of elderly mother's harrowing evacuation from Port Arthur nursing home

Dorothy Premeaux, 79, was one of dozens of patients evacuated by volunteers from the Cypress Glen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after the facility was inundated with rising floodwaters following the landfall of Tropical Storm Harvey.

PORT ARTHUR - When Nederland resident Roxie Johnson penned her phone number on her 79-year-old mother’s arm before watching her be flown away on a military helicopter, she wasn't sure when or where she'd see her again.

Dorothy Premeaux, 79, was one of dozens of patients evacuated from the Cypress Glen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after the facility was inundated with rising floodwaters following the landfall of Tropical Storm Harvey.

It was after 10 p.m. on Thursday, August 30, when Johnson says her mother was strapped across five seats in the back of a Chinook helicopter and evacuated from Port Arthur, 21 hours after Johnson was told the home was being evacuated.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened during the evacuation of the nursing home in the 7200 block of Ninth Avenue in Port Arthur.

Conflicting accounts...

Family members and volunteer rescuers have criticized Cypress Glen for not evacuating the residents sooner, while the nursing home’s parent company released a statement September 7, stating that residents were "forcibly evacuated by unknown volunteers."

In the September 7 statement from Senior Care Centers, Cypress Glen's parent company, they said that its staff had been working "with authorities to ensure a timely, safe and organized evacuation" of its residents when the residents were taken "forcibly" from the facility by the volunteers.

Since the evacuation the nursing home has been working to locate and check the status of all the evacuated patients and residents according to the statement.

As of Monday, September 11, all of the home's residents have now been accounted for according to Michelle Metzger, Director of Communications  for Senior Care Centers.

Johnson says Premeaux had gone into the nursing home for what was supposed to be a short-term rehab after a fall. At the time Johnson told the home she could take her mom in case of evacuation.

The week before Harvey threatened Southeast Texas, Johnson went to Cypress Glen to change her plans for evacuation, signing a form to allow her mother to be evacuated with the residents.

Johnson, who knew she was unable to safely lift and care for her mother, says she asked the staff then about their hurricane plans and was reassured that the facility was well prepared.

Harvey arrives in Port Arthur...

Johnson says it was a week later that her mother’s ordeal began.

Floodwaters began entering the nursing home at about 11:30 p.m. August 29, according to the September 7 statement by the nursing home’s parent company.

The statement, which was posted on the Cypress Glen Facebook page the next day, said that the staff was in contact at the time with the Port Arthur Fire Department and the Texas Department of Aging & Disability Services, or TxDADS, and were told to expect evacuation by the National Guard in the early morning hours.

Johnson told 12News she got a call at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, August 30, from her mom’s nurse telling her that the home was flooding and would be evacuated.

Johnson says she asked the nurse where the residents were being taken and how she could find her mom,  but the nurse did not know.

But because of worsening conditions, that evacuation didn’t happen according to the nursing home’s statement.

That is when nursing home staff moved all of the patients and residents to higher ground within the facility to shelter them for the night according to the home's statement.

During the night residents were always under the care of licensed health care professionals who provided resident with medications, food and water the statement said.

Johnson says she heard nothing from the nursing home or her mother’s nurse for the rest of the night. She says eight hours later her son-in-law, Robert Boudreaux, headed for the flooded nursing home in a large 4x4 truck, she said.

Sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Wednesday morning Boudreaux made it through the flooded streets to the nursing home and located Johnson’s elderly mother.

The 79-year-old was in her bed with flood waters rising toward the mattress, Boudreaux told Johnson. Other residents were sitting in wheelchairs with brown floodwater lapping at their knees.

The evacuation...

Boudreaux told Johnson that staff told him residents were being evacuated and then left the nursing home. 

When volunteers evacuated the residents, the home's staff members were not informed that the volunteers had the authority or training to do so according to the statement.

The statement went on to say that some staff, who were trying to protect residents, were "physically restrained" as volunteers evacuated residents.

One of the volunteer rescuers who took residents out of Cypress Glen, Christanne Middleton, shot video inside the nursing home after they arrived.

Several residents can be seen in the video sitting in wheelchairs with their legs in the water.

At one point in the video a staff member tells the volunteers they must leave because of patient privacy and tells them they are working with the government to help them evacuate residents.

Eric Lavoie, another volunteer rescuer who helped in the evacuation told 12News about how the home smelled when they arrived.

“The smell of feces literally hit me, people in the hallway were struggling to keep the contents of their stomach in themselves,” Lavoie said.

Lavoie said it was disturbing to see several patients inside who looked like they were severely neglected.

“People were coming out in just diapers and a t-shirt, they were just wet,” he said.

The nursing home's statement said that staff packed medicine, food, water and other supplies on the boats as well as attempted to accompany the residents to keep track of them and ensure their safety.

During the evacuation the nursing home says that volunteers provided no information on where the residents were taken and that in the process they were separated from the residents.

The nursing home has been in contact with families and residents to help them transition into another nursing home according to the statement.

Finding mom...

After hearing from her son-in-law, Johnson headed toward the nursing home to find her mom.

Johnson first went to the Max Bowl in Port Arthur, less than a mile north of Cypress Glen, where boats were bringing people out of the floodwaters, but could not find her mother.

She says she then made her way to a second staging area about 1.25 miles away from the nursing home at the Port Arthur Little Theater at Jimmy Johnson Blvd and Twin Cities Highway.

Ten hours after receiving that early-morning call from her mother’s nurse, Johnson found her mother on a bed in the parking lot of the theater.

Dorothy Premeaux was wearing her nightgown along with an orange vest and wristband that identified her only as a resident of Cypress Glen, said Johnson.

 Johnson told 12News Premeaux carried a bag with two pairs of dirty pajamas, no other clothes, no medical records, none of her medications and no contact information.

Other than being tired, her mom seemed to be ok. Johnson said the people there were doing the best they could to take care of the nursing home residents, including changing them.

She thought that until she was brought to the staging area at the theater her mother had not been changed in more than ten hours.

When asked how her mother and the other residents were evacuated Johnson sounded thankful as she replied that it was the “Cajun Navy.”

The hodge-podge of boats and rescuers from Louisiana as well as Southeast Texas carried her mom, in her bed, on a boat to safety according to Johnson.

She says there were 20-25 patients who were lifted in their beds onto the boats for the mile or so journey from the nursing home along with those in wheelchairs.

The nursing home in its statement said they appreciated the "efforts of well-intended volunteers" but went on to say that the effort should have been coordinated with authorities to ensure the safety of residents.

At the staging area, residents were triaged, Johnson said, with those in the most need being loaded aboard the large twin-rotor Chinook U.S. Army helicopters first.

Johnson says she ended up sitting in the back of a pick-up truck by her mom’s side at the staging area all day and into the night holding a tarp over her mom to protect her from the rain as they awaited her evacuation by helicopter.

At some point during the wait Johnson got the idea to write her phone number along with her mother’s name onto the arm of the frail woman who suffers from some dementia.

By around 10 p.m. it was her mom’s turn to take the short ride across Twin Cities Highway to where the helicopter was waiting to take her to safety.

Johnson shot some video of the large chopper before it left and then her mom was gone and once again she did not know when or where she would see her next.

Premeaux was flown to Conroe where she then took a three hour bus ride to Lufkin where she was checked out at CHI St. Luke’s Memorial Hospital, Johnson would later find out.

The medical staff at St. Luke’s found Premeaux to be exhausted but in otherwise good condition. She says they couldn’t pull up her records because she could not correctly recall her social security number.

Eventually they discovered Premeaux’s name along with Johnson’s number and called her at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning, Johnson said.

Medical staff told Johnson they had seen no other evacuees with such information written on their body.

Premeaux was later transferred to Twin Lakes Rehabilitation & Care Center 130 miles north of Port Arthur, in San Augustine, where Johnson says she has been treated wonderfully.

As the water receded, Johnson says the Cypress Glen staff began calling asking her to come pick up her mother’s belongings.

Other than the 1 a.m. call on Aug. 30 from her mom’s nurse, Johnson says she had heard nothing from the nursing home until they began calling a week later asking her when she would pick up her mother’s things.

She told them she would come by Sept. 8, in the afternoon.  Staff called at least two more times to confirm.

When she arrived at the home she was told that her mother’s items had been thrown in the trash along with the belongings of the other “short-term” patients, she said.

When asked about the belongings of short-term patients being thrown away, Michelle Metzger, Director of Communications  for Senior Care Centers, said "that's not my understanding of that."

12News also asked Metzger to comment on several other aspects of this story but Metzger said she could not comment citing patient privacy and referring to the home's statement of September 7.

More than a week after she watched a large Army helicopter fly away with her mom, Johnson finally saw her mom again on Saturday , September 9.

Johnson, who lives about five miles from Cypress Glen, says she normally saw her mom every day.

They spent much of the day together at the Twin Lakes Rehabilitation & Care Center in San Augustine where they visited and played some bingo.

She told 12News they had a great visit and she is hoping to have her mom in a Southeast Texas nursing home, most likely in Beaumont, by later next week.

Johnson is angry with how the nursing home handled the evacuation and treated its residents and says she doesn’t want anyone else to have to go through what she and other family members of the residents went through.

She says her mom just wants to come home.

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