AMA, ANA hail failed prosecution of Katrina doc

Groups concerned about fallout case could have

While a grand jury in New Orleans has cleared otolaryngologist Anna Pou, MD, in the deaths of patients at Memorial Medical Center in the days following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, allegations that she and two nurses actively killed patients trapped in the hospital, some doctors fear, could deter health care providers from remaining at their posts in future disasters.

Calling Pou and other physicians and nurses who stayed with their patients through the desperate conditions that followed the hurricane "bright lights during New Orleans' darkest hour" in a statement released after the grand jury refused to issue charges, American Medical Association (AMA) and American Nursing Association (ANA) leaders expressed concern about the actions taken against the doctor and nurses.

"[The AMA and ANA] continue to be very concerned about criminalizing decisions about patient care, especially those made during the chaotic aftermath of a disaster, when medical personnel and supplies are severely compromised," according to the statement issued by the Chicago-based AMA and Silver Springs, MD-headquartered ANA. The two largest organizations representing doctors and nurses in the United States say such decisions and actions by providers should be investigated by licensing boards, not criminal investigators.

"During any disaster, health care providers — doctors, nurses, and others — must work together to make the best decisions that they can given available resources," the statement continues. "This criminal prosecution will chill future responses of health practitioners during a major disaster for fear of having their best judgments second-guessed."

Pou and nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo were arrested in 2006, though they were never charged with any crimes related to the deaths of nine patients who Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti said were murdered with a lethal "cocktail" (of morphine and midazolam hydrochloride). Pou said she administered medications to the patients only to relieve pain.

The Louisiana State Medical Society backed Pou from the outset and issued several statements in support of her care of patients after the hurricane left Memorial Medical Center and other hospitals isolated, flooded, and without electricity, clean water, or adequate supplies.

"The decisions [Pou] made were in the best interests of the patients under her care," says Amy W. Phillips, JD, director of legal affairs for the state medical society. "We hope the grand jury's decision will remove the chilling effect these charges have had, and encourage physicians and other health care providers to continue to volunteer during disaster and emergency situations."

As for Pou herself, during brief comments to the media following the grand jury decision, she said her experiences since Katrina would not deter her from staying with patients should she find herself in the midst of another disaster.

"There's no one better than those of us who were here at the hospital during Katrina," Pou said.1

Pou still faces civil suits filed by some families of the patients who died at Memorial, and is herself suing the state of Louisiana for relief of the legal fees she has incurred.

Reference

  1. "Grand jury refuses to indict Dr. Anna Pou" by Gwen Filosa and John Pope. The Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 24, 2007.