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Memorial Medical Factors
"No one should rush to judgment" about a doctor and two nurses accused of murder in the sensational Memorial Medical Center case, according to Peter Scharf, a criminologist and director of the University of New Orleans Center for Society, Law and Justice. Dr. Anna M. Pou and two nurses, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo, have been accused by state Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. of murdering four patients at the hospital by administering lethal injections of morphine and midazolam during the desperate days immediately following Hurricane Katrina. All three deny any wrongdoing and remain free on bonds of $100,000 each as New Orleans DA Eddie Jordan now has the case. Scharf says intentions are key to considering both legal and ethical conduct in this instance. "Is this a criminal act or is this an act of justice and concern for the dignity of the patient?" Scharf says. "The ethical issue of the Memorial case is how do you know if people are acting out of conscience or out of self-interest?" There are issues and times throughout history when "respect for life obligates someone to go against the law" and "when disobedience to law is a duty," the professor says. The evidence ultimately may show that the accused may be no different than battlefield medics who administered excessive amounts of morphine to dying comrades they thought could not be saved or transported to safety, Scharf says. Lorrie Metzler, a local physician and consultant to the Center, says other factors include the "Doomsday" climate that hung over the city after Katrina, the extreme heat, sleep deprivation and other stress-related working conditions at the hospital. Foti says the accused tried to "play God" and should be charged with murder. -- Johnson

 

Added Stress for Medics
The Memorial Medical arrests -- and the state attorney general's continuing investigation of nursing homes and hospitals in south Louisiana -- come at a time of extreme stress for physicians in the hurricane-damaged areas, the state's top mental-health official says. Dr. Kathleen Crapanzano, a physician and medical director of the state Office of Mental Health, refused to comment on the Memorial case. Generally, Crapanzano says, "I think health-care professionals choose these fields because they care so greatly about people. And we have been in something of a crisis mode now for 11 months, and the pace is difficult to sustain for people. So I am concerned about the mental health, and the ability of our health-care professionals to continue to work at this pace, under these pressures without relief. This new hurricane season, of course, has just intensified the anxieties and fears about 'what if we get another one?'" Crapanzano was at Tulane-Lakeside Hospital in Metairie last week to address the continuing mental-health care crisis facing the city post-Katrina. Several physicians have committed suicide since the hurricane and others have contacted suicide-prevention hotlines, says former state mental health director Cherryl Bowers-Stephens. -- Johnson

 

Dartez Drops Out
State Rep. Carla Dartez is ending her bid for secretary of state after raising roughly $60,000 for the special statewide election this fall. The office became vacant last year when veteran incumbent Fox McKeithen died after a fall. Dartez, a Morgan City Democrat, noted that competition for the job has intensified -- particularly when state Sen. Francis Heitmeier of New Orleans, another Democrat, jumped into the fray last week with an impressive $800,000 war chest and a larger base of regional support. "I just have to be realistic," Dartez says. "If I was the only Democrat in the race, the party could raise money for me. But I'm not anymore." The declared Republican candidates in the race have competed for endorsements and contributions. Former state GOP chairman Mike Francis got a boost from U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is considered a front-runner for the GOP 2008 presidential nomination. Sometimes a check is as good as an official endorsement, and the campaign of state Sen. Jay Dardenne is touting a $2,000 donation from Congressman Richard Baker. Both men are Republicans from Baton Rouge. Dartez first showed interest in the office late last year, not long after McKeithen's death. She now says she wants to focus on her legislative district. She can still be elected to one more term in the lower chamber, representing parts of Terrebonne, Assumption and St. Mary parishes. She currently serves as vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and is interested in filling the recent vacancy in that committee chairmanship. Qualifying for the secretary of state's race is set for Aug. 9-11, with the primary to be held Sept. 30. If needed, a run-off will be on Nov. 7. -- Alford

 

Everybody Loves Economic Development
Economic development is the new apple pie -- everybody who's running for office loves it, but chances are few actually know how to make it happen. When he ran for lieutenant governor, Mitch Landrieu proclaimed his agency would play a greater economic development role, despite the department's core mission of promoting culture, recreation and tourism. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, of course, promised to do the same as governor, which is a traditional role for the state's chief executive (except, of course, when Mike Foster was governor). Now the secretary of state's office is about to play the economic development tune, to judge from the rhetoric emanating from several announced candidates in this fall's special election. State Sen. Francis Heitmeier, a New Orleans Democrat, promises to use the office to create jobs and rebuild the state's economy -- but nothing more specific. He says the SOS can "make it easier to do business in our state," especially since it already handles a great deal of business filings. The office also oversees elections and the State Archives. Republican state Sen. Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge posts the same on his Web site: "Every statewide official should be engaged in leading Louisiana's efforts to attract business and industry to our state ... " Not to be outdone, former state GOP chairman Mike Francis is promising to serve as an international recruiter for new businesses. -- Alford

 

The Giver is Greater Still
Former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin might be retired from public office and grazing on greener pastures as president of a major pharmaceutical lobby, but his congressional committee continues to linger like a political ghost. According to second-quarter financial statements, the committee account has $156,000 in the bank. In its heyday, Tauzin's committee pulled down hefty contributions from all the Beltway courtiers -- from PACS and oil corporations to power brokers and conglomerates. While donations are considerably down, almost to nothing, the congressional committee still has enough money to write checks. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon received $2,000 from the Tauzin fund in May. A gaggle of other congressional candidates received $1,000 donations as well, including GOP Congresswoman Mary Bono of California. Tauzin, a Republican who chaired the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, gave up his congressional seat in 2004. He now heads up the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. -- Alford

 

Doctor: Scientologists Beat Feds to Katrina
Dr. Jeffery Rouse, the deputy Orleans Parish coroner who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee recently on the medical and psychiatric response to Katrina, describes dire conditions facing medical providers in the flooded city after the storm. "Volunteer doctors were being turned away by FEMA while we were screaming for assistance," he says. "Scientologists were in New Orleans providing massages before any organized federal medical help arrived in the city." When armed federal troops finally arrived a week after the storm, Rouse told Gambit Weekly, "no one thought to bring medical supplies." During recent testimony before the Senate subcommittee hearing at the Louisiana Supreme Court, Rouse said he and a Homeland Security medic worked for "five straight nights and days" at a makeshift medical clinic for first-responders in the gift shop of the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street. "In my sleep-deprived eyes, there was a crisis and organized help was merely a wish," Rouse told the Senate Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness. -- Johnson

 

The Return of Elmer's Island?
For four years now, south Louisianans have missed the benefits of visiting Elmer's Island. Located directly across Caminada Pass from Grand Isle, Elmer's Island once offered one of the few land-accessible beaches in Louisiana. Camping and fishing (for a small fee) on the 1,700-acre island was a family tradition for years. Elmer's closed in 2002 amid hopes that a new owner would open it up for public use again. Some momentum built during the final term of former Gov. Mike Foster, but the state never stepped up to the plate. Now it appears the federal government has finally gotten into the act. The state's congressional delegation has secured $1.75 million through the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill. The money would be used to buy the island and develop the land in a manner that is compatible with the state's coastal restoration efforts. "This is a critical step toward completion of the protection of the 1,700 acres for continued public use," says Larry Schmidt, director of the New Orleans branch of the Trust for Public Land. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, says public usage is important, but the funding also addresses conservation. "Elmer's Island boasts low dunes, mud and sand flats, marsh, lagoon and a tidal channel that provide prime habitat for many species of fish and birds that should be preserved," he says. -- Alford

 

In the Works: 9/11 Tribute
The first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 29) is approaching, along with the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Word of a local tribute to those who died in the 2001 assault on the World Trade Center in New York City came during a recent ship christening ceremony at the Northrop Grumman shipyard at Avondale. A crowd of 700 military leaders, politicians, and shipbuilders turned out to celebrate the future USS Green Bay, one of three 684-foot warships still under construction at the yard. U.S. Rep. William Jefferson said he looks forward to completion of the Green Bay's sister ship, the future USS New Orleans, scheduled for completion next year. Philip Teel, president of Northrop Grumman, acknowledged a "special" attachment to the Green Bay's other neighbor in the yard, the future USS New York. "She is important to me because ... my family and I lived in New York during the 9/11 attacks," Teel said of the vessel. He added that the New York is being built with World Trade Center steel in "her bow stem." Teel also saluted all 5,000 employees at Avondale who continue to work on all three vessels, despite personal hardships resulting from Katrina. Many "still live in trailers, someone else's home or in Camp Katrina," a housing compound. -- Johnson

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