Facility Opens On Site Where Patients Died During Katrina


VIOLET, La. (AP) — The former owners of a Louisiana nursing home where 35 patients died during Hurricane Katrina have opened an assisted living facility on the same property.

Former St. Rita's nursing home owners Salvatore and Mabel Mangano have partnered with Kelly and King Barber to open The Village at St. Bernard in Violet, The New Orleans Advocate reported . A ribbon-cutting for the 36-unit independent- and assisted-living facility was held earlier this week.

In 2005, as Katrina approached, most nursing homes in St. Bernard Parish heeded an evacuation order, but the Manganos chose to ride out the storm. Floodwaters poured through ruptured levees, filling the one-story facility almost to the ceiling in about 20 minutes after the storm roared ashore. Staff helped some residents to the roof, but 35 patients died as waters rose.

The Manganos were acquitted of negligent homicide and cruelty charges in 2007. They had said that they did not want to risk having sick and elderly residents die during the evacuation.

Years later, the Barbers say the local community is in dire need of housing for the elderly. They say the new facility is not a nursing home like St. Rita, where residents needed a high level of care, and doesn't have nurses on staff or provide any medical treatment.

The Barbers said they didn't encounter any negative comments until news of the recent ribbon-cutting was posted on Facebook, where some said the site should become a memorial and that it is in poor taste for the former owners to be doing something similar at the same site.

"We're not hiding from anything," Kelly Barber said. "We're not people coming in here from out of state and ignoring what was here. We know what was here.

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