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Warrants say four patients were given lethal drugs after Katrina
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS – The arrest warrants for a doctor and two nurses booked in the deaths of patients at a New Orleans hospital in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina say lethal doses of morphine and a sedative known as Versed were administered.
The warrants accuse the three of being "principals to second-degree murder" and say they intentionally killed four patients at Memorial Medical Center "by administering or causing to be administered lethal doses of morphine sulphate (morphine) and midazolam (Versed)."
A doctor and two nurses were arrested overnight.
"We're not calling this euthanasia. We're not calling this mercy killings. This is second-degree murder," said Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles C. Foti. Wartelle declined to elaborate on the specific allegations against the women.
The three were booked on four counts each after their arrests late Monday but not yet formally charged, officials said.
Foti had subpoenaed more than 70 people last fall in an investigation into rumors that medical personnel at Memorial Medical Center had euthanized patients who were in pain after the hurricane as they waited in miserable conditions for rescue.
The mother of Dr. Anna Pou, who was among the three arrested, said today she was distressed by the treatment of her daughter.
"Medicine was the most important thing in her life and I know she never ever did anything deliberately to hurt anyone," Jeanette Pou said in a telephone interview.
Dr. Pou's lawyer, Rick Simmons, said his client was arrested and handcuffed at her house late Monday night.
"I told them that she is not a flight risk. I told them that she would surrender herself. Instead, they chose to arrest her in her scrubs so that they could present her scalp to the media," Simmons said.
At least 34 patients died there during that period, 10 of them patients of the hospital's owner Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. and 24 patients in a facility run by LifeCare Holdings Inc., a separate company.
After the bodies were recovered, Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said they were so decomposed the deaths could only be listed as "Katrina-related."
He later said samples had been taken from dozens of patients who died at various hospitals and nursing homes to test for potentially lethal doses of drugs such as morphine.
In a December interview, Dr. Pou told Baton Rouge television station WBRZ: "There were some patients there who were critically ill who, regardless of the storm, had the orders of do not resuscitate. In other words, if they died, to allow them to die naturally, and to not use heroic methods to resuscitate them."
"We all did everything in our power to give the best treatment that we could to the patients in the hospital to make them comfortable," Pou said then.
Harry Anderson, a spokesman for Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., said the arrests and allegations against the medical care workers, if proven true, were disturbing.
"Euthanasia is repugnant to everything we believe as ethical health care providers, and it violates every precept of ethical behavior and the law. It is never permissible under any circumstances," Anderson said.
In addition to Pou, nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo were arrested and later released on personal recognizance bonds, officials said. Orleans Parish Sheriff's Chief William Hunter said each was booked on four counts of "principal to second-degree murder."
It wasn't immediately clear if Landry and Budo had attorneys who could comment. Pou did not answer the door at her Baton Rouge home.
Angela McManus' 70-year-old mother was among the patients who died at Memorial. McManus said she had been recovering from a blood infection but seemed fine and was still able to speak when police demanded relatives of the ill evacuate. She died later that day, McManus said.
"At least now I'll be able to get some answers," McManus said. "For months, I haven't known what happened to my mom. I need some answers just to be able to function."
Tenet said today it is selling the now-closed Memorial Medical Center and two other area hospitals to Ochsner Health System, a sale expected to be completed by Aug. 31.
Associated Press Writers Alan Sayre Mary Foster in New Orleans and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company