A grand jurys decision not to indict cancer surgeon Anna Pou was claimed as a victory by physicians, but still serves as a reminder to hospitals about the potentially fatal consequences when facilities are unprepared for a major disaster.
After months of weighing information from Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordans office, a grand jury in New Orleans on July 24 decided there was not enough compelling evidence to indict Pouthe Louisiana State University physician arrested with two nurses last July on four counts of second-degree murderof any criminal wrongdoing (July 24, 2006, p. 6). The nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, were granted immunity from prosecution earlier this month in exchange for their testimony before a grand jury (July 2/9, p. 14). Four civil lawsuits against Pou are pending.
At a news conference that day, the 51-year-old Pou offered a statement that thanked her supporters and expressed her desire to return to practice. And, without shifting blame to hospitals or government systems, Pou emphasized that no clinician should have to endure a similar situation in the future.
On the same day, the American Medical Association issued a written statement that supported the grand jurys decision and applauded the efforts of Pou and other physicians who stayed behind to care for patients after the storm hit on Aug. 29, 2005.
Pous attorney Rick Simmons also offered a statement at the news conference in which he said local, state and federal governments wrestled and wrangled and twiddled their thumbs as more than 40 people succumbed to Third World conditions inside the hospital.
It is this last pointthe horrendous conditions inside Memorial Medical Center as some clinicians were caring for patientsthat is a grim reminder not only for governments, but also for hospitals and health systems that they cannot afford to be unprepared when the next disaster strikes. Grand jurors and jurors on a civil or criminal case are probably going to be more inclined to sympathize with the individual than with the institution, said Jim Chason, an attorney in Towson, Md. We live in an era with an ever-increasing expectation that hospitals and other entities will anticipate disasters and prepare for them.
That may be, but it still seems that hospitals bolster their security and preparedness efforts after an event occurs. This was the case recently for Jewish Hospital & St. Marys HealthCare in Louisville, Ky. A train accident involving hazardous materials in January caused hospital administrators to evaluate how they could improve managing disasters, according to Steve French, vice president for facilities development and engineering services at Jewish Hospital & St. Marys. The train wreck happened about three miles from one of the hospitals ambulatory surgery centers. After the hospital captured the train explosion on a security camera, staff members began thinking about ways to look at surrounding areas using information technology. As a result, the hospital combined the technology from three systems into one to help detect the effects of a major disaster. It gives us a whole lot more direct involvement in the scene and the ability to think ahead, French said.
In a similar way, not-for-profit Touro Infirmary in New Orleans has learned from Katrina and implemented a host of changes in the last two years, said Les Hirsch, chief executive officer at Touro. With support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Touro upgraded its emergency generator system and installed a well so there is an ample supply of water in the hospital during disasters. Touro is also involved in regional planning efforts with other area hospitals.
Weve spent considerable energy preparing for a hurricane or any disaster of that proportion or magnitude, Hirsch said.