Doctor, 2 nurses held in Katrina deaths
Arrest order says morphine used, second-degree murder charges filed
AP Associate Press
Updated: 1 hour, 5 minutes ago
NEW ORLEANS - A doctor and two nurses were arrested overnight in connection with the deaths of patients at a New Orleans hospital in the days following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana attorney general’s office said Tuesday.
“We’re not calling this euthanasia. We’re not calling this mercy killings. This is second-degree murder,” said Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles C. Foti.
The arrest warrant for Dr. Anna Pou says lethal doses of morphine were administered.
The three were booked on four counts each after their arrests late Monday but not yet formally charged, officials said. Wartelle declined to elaborate on the allegations.
Foti last fall subpoenaed more than 70 people in an investigation into rumors that medical personnel at Memorial Medical Center had euthanized patients who were in pain as they waited in miserable conditions in the days after the hurricane to be rescued.
The mother of Dr. Anna Pou, who was among the three arrested, said Tuesday she was distressed by the treatment of her daughter.
“Medicine was the most important thing in her life and I know she never ever did anything deliberately to hurt anyone,” Jeanette Pou said in a telephone interview.
34 deaths at hospital
Memorial Medical Center had been cut off by flooding after the Aug. 29 hurricane swamped New Orleans. Power was out in the 317-bed hospital and the temperatures inside rose over 100 degrees as the staff tried to tend to patients who waited four days to be evacuated.
At least 34 patients died there during that period, 10 of them patients of the hospital’s owner Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. and 24 patients in a facility run by LifeCare Holdings Inc., a separate company.
After the bodies were recovered, Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said they were so decomposed the deaths could only be listed as “Katrina-related.” He later said samples had been taken from dozens of patients who died at various hospitals and nursing homes to test for potentially lethal doses of drugs such as morphine.
In a December interview, Dr. Pou told Baton Rouge television station WBRZ that “there were some patients there who were critically ill who, regardless of the storm, had the orders of do not resuscitate. In other words, if they died, to allow them to die naturally, and to not use heroic methods to resuscitate them.”
“We all did everything in our power to give the best treatment that we could to the patients in the hospital to make them comfortable,” Pou said then.
‘Euthanasia ... never permissible’
Harry Anderson, a spokesman for Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., said the allegations against the medical care workers, if proven true, were disturbing.
“Euthanasia is repugnant to everything we believe as ethical health care providers, and it violates every precept of ethical behavior and the law. It is never permissible under any circumstances,” Anderson said.
The three arrested late Monday were identified by Wartelle and sheriff’s officials as Anna Pou and nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo. Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Chief William Hunter said each was booked on four counts of “principal to second-degree murder.”
A message left with Pou’s attorney, Rick Simmons, was not immediately returned Tuesday. It wasn’t immediately clear if Landry and Budo had attorneys who could comment.
“For my patients, it’s too late,” said Tammie Holley, an attorney who represents relatives of over a dozen patients who had been on the hospital’s acute-care seventh floor, many of whom died.
Angela McManus’ 70-year-old mother was among the patients who died at Memorial. She had been recovering from a blood infection, but she seemed fine and was still able to speak when police demanded McManus and other relatives of the ill evacuate. She died later that day, McManus said.
“At least now I’ll be able to get some answers,” McManus said. “For months, I haven’t known what happened to my mom. I need some answers just to be able to function.”
Tenet said Tuesday it is selling the now-closed Memorial Medical Center and two other area hospitals to Ochsner Health System, a sale expected to be completed by Aug. 31.
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What a horrible predicament and situation for these patients.
May they rest in peace.