Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has a haunting account of events in Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina. The piece is about the deaths that lead the the murder arrest of Dr. Anita Pou and two others, and the failure of that prosecution. The story recounts a passage through hell; as the situation gets more and more starkly grim, I became torn as a reader between thinking whether it’s possible to judge or second guess people in these circumstances and left with the unmistakable conclusion that, if this story accurately recounts the events at that hospital, murders actually did occur. The story was written by a journalist who is also an MD, Sheri Fink.
The story is an account of the events at the hospital, partciularly surrounding patients on the seventh floor, where LifeCare Hospitals ran a hospital-within-the-hospital, along with an account of the murder investigation. There is some discussion of a debate about whether health-care workers caught in a situation such as this should be given immunity from second-guessing their decisions. The article’s conclusion is that murders did occur at the hospital. I’m not sure I’d say I recommend the story; it is very difficult and painful reading, but it seems to me an important one. I’d be curious of the reaction from medical professionals.
The Times described the genesis of the piece in an editor’s note:
Fink is an M.D. as well as an experienced reporter, and she brings a unique perspective to the story, having aided refugees in the aftermath of wars and disasters around the world for 10 years and taught a course two years ago at Tulane University on public health issues in crisis situations. Her reporting is unusual in another way for us: it was undertaken not on direct assignment but with financing from the Kaiser Family Foundation and then while she worked as a staff reporter for ProPublica, the independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism and distributes it in an array of ways, including through mainstream media outlets like The Times. This is not the first collaboration between ProPublica and The Times, but it is the biggest such undertaking.
The picture, above, is the hallway of the seventh floor of the hospital; this is where the patients died who were the focus of the murder investigation. The picture below is the stairs to the helipad where patients were being evacuated.