More Bad Medicine

Last month, we mentioned that Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. had a doctor and two nurses arrested after it was alleged they killed four patients at a New Orleans hospital, Memorial Medical Center, during the hours after Hurricane Katrina hit the city exactly one year ago. Dr. Anna Pou was among those accused of shooting up patients with lethal doses of morphine and other sedatives, because, Pou allegedly told a colleague, it would be easier to kill them than move them. Turns out there have also been several lawsuits filed in the case--and named in those suits is the owner of Memorial Medical Center, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. Among the allegations: Tenet "did not have an adequate evacuation plan" in case of such an emergency, according to the latest issue of Healthcare Risk Management.

The article also includes quotes from Pou's attorney, Richard T. Simmons, who says his client is innocent and little more than the victim of Foti's "grandstanding." He says in the story, "What occurred was a media circus by the attorney general to get credit for the investigation. How it was handled was totally inappropriate." Also:

"He notes that Pou did not have to be in the hospital at all. She had volunteered to stay with the patients who could not be evacuated and found herself in desperate conditions, with seriously ill patients, a flooded hospital, extreme temperatures, no food for staff, looters threatening to overrun the hospital, and virtually no outside help. Medications were running low, there was no electricity, and the batteries for some life support systems were dying. Pou and the two accused nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, scrambled to keep patients alive and provide whatever palliative care might be possible, Simmons says."

Pou has not been named in the seven civil suits brought against Tenet and the hospital. Healthcare Risk Management also has a separate story about how "Tenet distances itself from hospital, accused clinicians." It reprints the company's statement issued shortly after the hospital workers were arrested, in which Tenet took the no-really? position that "if proven true, these allegations are very disturbing," while also praising "many, many physicians and caregivers at Memorial Medical Center who worked under incredibly difficult circumstances to care for and evacuate patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with little or no help from local, state, or federal authorities." Notes Healthcare Risk Management:

"The company does not need another crisis that could damage its reputation as a health care provider. In June 2006, Tenet agreed to pay $725 million to settle charges that it had duped the Medicare system to collect excessive reimbursement amounts. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Tenet announced that it had agreed to sell Memorial Medical Center, which has been closed since the hurricane, and two other New Orleans Hospitals to Ochsner Health System of New Orleans.

The New Orleans facility was among 11 that the company said it would divest as part of a plan to fund the government settlement and improve Tenet's future profitability."

--Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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