Katrina: Memorial Hospital Patient Deaths

  1. A lengthy investigative journalism article appeared in the New York Times today about events that occurred at Memorial Hospital during the Katrina disaster.


    It is a long article and I am exhausted, saddened and confused after reading it. I am not sure if I have anything to say about the conduct of the health care providers. As for the hospital corporation, the federal government and FEMA I think this just reeks of incompetency and moral bankruptcy. It is beyond belief that adequate resources were not brought to bear for handling hospital evacuation and relief staffing. The Katrina disaster was a significant factor in my decision to become a nurse, I feel a responsibility to be trained and ready to help. I have just completed nursing school and am a Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer. I only hope that the corporations that are making billions of dollars a year and federal, state and local governments are willing and prepared to employ the services of the thousands of us who I know would be willing to help.
    I have mixed feelings towards those at the scene but one thing is painfully obvious, Pres Bush and "Brownie" abandoned their responsibilities through incompetence and willful ignorance. The corporation that owned the hospital should be deeply ashamed. It seems a failure in our system that shareholders worried about their 401k accounts don't seem to realize that the companies they own have profit as priority one. It is a shame that the government seems so totally unable to do one of its basic functions.
    My heart goes out to those who served, suffered and those who died.
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    About ImMrBill3, RN

    Joined: Mar '09; Posts: 125; Likes: 118
    ICU RN; from US
    Specialty: 2 year(s) of experience in ICU, Home Health Care, End of Life, LTC


  3. by   OC_An Khe
    The aftermath of Katrina and the actions of many of those involved generated a significant amount of discussion here, particularly after the potential of criminal charges were raised. The article is well worth the time it takes to read it.
    Lack of planning, coordination, ignorance and in some cases abject fear characterizes some of the reasons for the abmysmal response on many levels.
  4. by   ukstudent
    Well worth reading all 18 pages of the Article. It gave me a new prospective of what occurred 4 years ago. Did they do the right thing or not, I don't know, I wasn't there. It certainly leaves me with a queasy feeling, especially with the misunderstand of what a DNR means. If Doctors don't understand it, what hope do we have of the general public understanding it.

    As a ICU nurse at a level one trauma center in a major metropolitan city I can't help but think of the possible flu season coming as I read it. What is going to happen if it becomes as bad as some are predicting? What happens when there are no other hospitals to evacuate patients too? When there are not enough ICU nurses, not enough vents, not enough ECMO machines and those that can work them? What are the triage rules going to be then?
  5. by   Fixit
    A full three days after the worst natural disaster in our country's history Bush flew over New Orleans to wave at the doomed souls stranded on roof tops and the devastated masses stuck on the interstate, trying to flee the city on foot. My personal opinion as a nurse who was there - working in a different hospital? I absolutely believe that's all Bush intended to do if there hadn't been a public outcry.
  6. by   UM Review RN
    Quote from Fixit
    A full three days after the worst natural disaster in our country's history Bush flew over New Orleans to wave at the doomed souls stranded on roof tops and the devastated masses stuck on the interstate, trying to flee the city on foot. My personal opinion as a nurse who was there - working in a different hospital? I absolutely believe that's all Bush intended to do if there hadn't been a public outcry.
    I agree. Still makes me sick with disgust and shame when I think of how poorly our government --at all levels -- responded to this crisis.

    I'm not looking forward to the day that it happens to us -- predictions state that most of our county will be under flood waters in the event of a Cat3 hurricane. Nearly all of the hospitals and nursing homes in the county are in the flood areas.
  7. by   herring_RN
    interview with the author of the article. you can listen, watch, or read the transcript:

    “the deadly choices at memorial”–investigation of new orleans hospital tells story of how medical staff euthanized patients in katrina aftermath

    on the fourth anniversary of hurricane katrina, a major investigation reveals harrowing new details of one of the many human tragedies that occurred in the aftermath of the storm.

    forty-five patients at the new orleans memorial medical center died in the days after katrina’s floodwater knocked out the power in the hospital.

    a 13,000-word article titled “the deadly choices at memorial” tells the full story of what really happened to some of those patients. it’s the cover story of the new york times sunday magazine this weekend and the product of a two-and-a-half-year investigation.
    we speak with reporter sheri fink of propublica….

  8. by   herring_RN
    i think that any of us could be in this situation sometime.
    ...john thiele, a 53-year-old pulmonologist, who had never before spoken publicly about his katrina experiences until we had two lengthy interviews in the last year. thiele told me that on thursday morning, he saw susan mulderick walking out of the emergency room. ''john, everybody has to be out of here tonight,'' he said she told him. he said ren goux told him the same thing....

    ...''this was totally against every fiber in my body,'' thiele told me, but he also said he knew what he did was right. ''we were abandoned by the government, we were abandoned by tenet, and clearly nobody was going to take care of these people in their dying moments.'' he added, ''i did what i would have wanted done to me if the roles were reversed.''...

    ...thiele didn't know pou by name, but she looked to him like the physician in charge on the second floor. he told me that pou told him that the category 3 patients were not going to be moved. he said he thought they appeared close to death and would not have survived an evacuation. he was terrified, he said, of what would happen to them if they were left behind.
    he expected that the people firing guns into the chaos of new orleans-''the animals,'' he called them-would storm the hospital, looking for drugs after everyone else was gone. ''i figured, what would they do, these crazy black people who think they've been oppressed for all these years by white people? i mean if they're capable of shooting at somebody, why are they not capable of raping them or, or, you know, dismembering them? what's to prevent them from doing things like that?''
    the laws of man had broken down, thiele concluded, and only the laws of god applied....


  9. by   herring_RN
    nurses tell of tattered health system - access to care is still inadequate, they say
    by kate moran
    times picayune
    may 8, 2007

    ...charles jarreau, a former intensive care nurse at memorial medical center, was stuck at the hospital for four days after the storm. when he was helping others evacuate, he was pinned between a helicopter and wheelchair and suffered a ruptured spleen and bruised rib.
    "there is no therapy and no medication that can take that away," jarreau said.

    for all the horrors they saw during the storm, the nurses were frustrated that the health care system remains crippled nearly two years after katrina.
    anne mulle, a nurse practitioner at the common ground health clinic in algiers, said patients are arriving with advanced diabetes because their access to family doctors is limited. ...


    these are some of the rns who attended including mr. jarreau, who stayed to care for patients at memorial.
  10. by   carolinapooh
    In regards to what may or may not have occurred at Memorial Hospital that day - we will never really know what happened.

    As a medical professional, I can only shudder when I contemplate what kinds of decisions that circumstances may cause you to make. As a prospective patient (because really, we're all prospective patients) I have to put my trust in the hands of my fellow professionals and literally hope to God they're doing the best they can.

    Personally, if their judgement says that my likelihood of surviving something of this magnitude is next to nil, make me comfortable. And yes, I mean exactly what's implied. Given the part of the country I live in, I just might add something of that nature to my living will (in other words, triage me last). Remember, I'm speaking only for myself here.

    Whatever happened that day, I can't imagine being faced with the situation these folks encountered, and I can't imagine having to live with the memories of what I would have seen or what I had to do that I believed was the right thing - which is what I think happened. They did what they could with what they did or didn't have. Euthanasia? I don't know. Out and out homicide? No, in my opinion. The intent inherent in the word "homicide" is something malicious, something that I don't think was the case here.

    God knows I've seen some highly titrated morphine drips in my time in oncology...
  11. by   carolinapooh
    In my opinion, the government is trying to hide from the aftermath of Katrina in part because they sort of perpetuated it with the continued "repair" of the city's levees by the Army Corps of Engineers (I believe I'm remembering details correctly). It's not the FAULT of the engineers (i have a friend who belongs to this elite group), it's the fault of the government who directed and allowed it to occur.

    Sick. Sick, sick, sick - and it could happen anywhere.
  12. by   StNeotser
    Well, that took me a long time to read. Having read some blogs of nurses who were working through the hurricane, I can only say I can't judge as I wasn't in their awful position. They were left without any outside support whatsoever. How long could they really bag patients manually? I also wonder why the only people ever charged with any wrong doing in Katrina were health care personnel. There was so much fault at local to federal levels, the NOPD were also shooting at people.
  13. by   herring_RN
    In 1994 I was bathing a patient in the iCU when the Northridge earthquake hit. Our emergency generator fell off iwhatever it was on and we lost power. We used flashlights, mine was a little one in my teeth.

    Both my patients were on ventilators. We did manage to take turns bagging them. About 2 hours later the sun came up and staff came in to help. Many who were not scheduled.

    The NICU babies were taken to the ER where there was a battery light. Ambulatory patients were too. Of course the elevators didn't work.

    But most of the city was safe so long as you wore shoes. Lots of cut feet from frightened people running outside barefoot in their night clothes.

    In a few hours the city got the power back on.

    This was VERY different from the staff at Memorial bagging people for four days!
    With seemingly no end in sight.

    And the rumors of shootings frightened Tenet executives limiting the assistance their corporate helicopters provided.
    The media made mistakes - http://www.reason.com/news/show/36327.html

    I think we need to do all we can to make our facilities plan and prepare. Meet regularly to plan for weather, pandemic, or other disasters.
    But still the unexpected can happen.

    I pray for the staff, patients, and families who had to experience that.
  14. by   PedsAtHeart
    That was a long one, but very much worth the read!