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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Memorial Center Deaths Still Leave Questions

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 9:27 PM


Since July of ’07 when a grand jury decided not to indict Dr. Anna Pou on any charges, have you given much thought to the mysterious deaths that took place at Memorial Medical Center during the aftermath of the levee failures? Perhaps you should. Sheri Fink, a journalist for Pro Publica, a nonprofit investigative organization, recently wrote an extraordinary article for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Up until now, much of what Fink discovered has never before been fully revealed to the public such as:

  • There was more than one doctor involved. In the article, Dr. Ewing Cook, a longtime physician at Memorial, says to Fink, “I gave her (Jannie Burgess, a 79-year-old woman with advanced cancer and kidney failure) medicine so I could get rid of her faster, get the nurses off of the floor.” He added, “There’s no question I hastened her demise.”
  • Memorial staff doctors decided that patients with “Do Not Resuscitate” orders should be evacuated last. A DNR order, as Fink explains, “means one thing: A patient whose heartbeat or breathing has stopped should not be revived.” Dr. Richard Deichmann, who had organized the Memorial doctors to discuss evacuation, told Fink that “patients with DNR orders had terminal or irreversible conditions…” That’s quite a difference in definitions.
  • Another Memorial doctor, Dr. John Thiele, a 53-year-old pulmonologist who has never spoken publicly about his experience in the days following the levee failures, told Fink how he gave morphine and midazolam to four patients. When one of the patients, a heavyset African American man, didn’t expire, Thiele says, “We covered his face with a towel,” until he stopped breathing. Thiele also told Fink that he was afraid to leave any patients behind, because of those outside of the hospital, still in the streets. Thiele described them to Fink as “the animals” and the “crazy black people.”
  • Orleans Coroner, Frank Minyard, solicited opinions from a number of experts in forensics, palliative care and other fields of care , and six of the seven experts determined that many of the deaths were homicides.
  • Minyard told Fink, regarding Pou, “I strongly do not believe she planned to kill anybody, but it looks like she did.”
  • The grand jury never heard the testimony of the forensic experts.

Interestingly enough, Fink is a medical doctor and has previously authored a book, War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival, which tells the story of the personal, medical and moral dilemmas faced by a handful of doctors as they tried to provide medical care to 50,000 war refugees in war torn Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Here’s what Fink had to say regarding the situation at Memorial Medical Center in the aftermath of the storm.

What do you think? Should this story be over? Will anyone ever be prosecuted for what took place at Memorial, should they?

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