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Special Report: Katrina Deaths
Doctor's lawyer says she was hero, not murderer
The attorney representing Anna Pou, MD, accused of murdering patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, says the doctor should be lauded for her work in the flooded hospital, not charged with any crime.
Richard T. Simmons, JD, with the firm Hailey McNamara in Metairie, LA, tells Healthcare Risk Management that the doctor is innocent and will vigorously defend herself if criminal charges are brought. Simmons says the four patients who died were unfortunate victims of the storm and that Pou did everything she could for those left in the hospital.
"She is absolutely innocent of the charges," Simmons says. "What occurred was a media circus by the attorney general to get credit for the investigation. How it was handled was totally inappropriate. He could have just forwarded this to the district attorney and allowed him to convene a grand jury to determine if there was justification for formal charges."
Simmons says the state attorney general was grandstanding by making such a show of having Pou arrested at her home, in scrubs, after having been in surgery that morning. He says she had been told that she could self-surrender in the next few days.
"It was totally outrageous to do it this way," he says. "One defense is going to be the character of these women. People are offering to speak to their character, and we will show that these are people who spent all their lives caring for patients, who volunteered to go to the hospital in a crisis, who stayed there when others didn't, and stayed to the end. That's not a person who suddenly becomes a murderer."
He notes that Pou did not have to be in the hospital at all. She had volunteered to stay with the patients who could not be evacuated and found herself in desperate conditions, with seriously ill patients, a flooded hospital, extreme temperatures, no food for staff, looters threatening to overrun the hospital, and virtually no outside help. Medications were running low, there was no electricity, and the batteries for some life support systems were dying. Pou and the two accused nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, scrambled to keep patients alive and provide whatever palliative care might be possible, Simmons says.
The attorney says flatly that Pou and the rest of the staff deserve accolades for their work after Katrina and that they are being made scapegoats for some of the tragic outcomes of the crisis. He notes that at least seven families of patients who died at Memorial Medical Center have filed civil suits against the hospital, and Pou will find out shortly whether she also will be named in those lawsuits. The lawsuits include allegations that the hospital's parent company, Tenet Healthcare Corp. in Dallas, did not have an adequate evacuation plan.