HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Creighton University School of Law

Friday, September 16, 2005

Tenet, La. Attorney General to Meet Regarding Bodies

From Modern Healthcare's "Daily Dose" today:

Tenet Healthcare Corp., Dallas, said its general counsel is scheduled to meet Monday with Louisiana's attorney general to discuss the 45 bodies removed earlier this week from Tenet's Memorial Medical Center, New Orleans. On CNBC, Tenet Chief Executive Officer Trevor Fetter said the company had received no indication it is the target of a criminal investigation, but Tenet is cooperating fully with authorities. Fetter echoed Tenet's previous statements on the matter, emphasizing that no living patient was left behind in the evacuation of the hospital. The only person who remained at either of Tenet's two New Orleans hospitals -- Memorial and Lindy Boggs Medical Center -- was a physician who stayed at Lindy Boggs until Monday to care for pets, Fetter said. Asked if Tenet faced civil liability for patients who died during the emergency, Fetter said Louisiana law protects healthcare providers and other Good Samaritans for actions during emergencies. Suggestions that the company will face civil lawsuits are part of the litigious environment in healthcare, he said

Newsday today has a story that predicts a spate of civil lawsuits against Tenet and has a number of quotes that suggest that employees and officers of the company, especially at Memorial, have nothing to fear from either the state's AG or the plaintiffs' bar:

Just before dawn on the Wednesday after the hurricane, the hospital went black. The water stopped running later that day.

Outside, a quickly rising flood surrounded the building and gunshots punctuated the night. Inside, there was no way to administer dialysis or insulin injections, to do blood tests, X-rays or CAT scans. To keep patients cool, nurses wiped foreheads with pillowcases soaked in melting ice and fanned them with ripped pieces of cardboard.

Memorial Medical Center was no longer a hospital.

"The temperature rose to ungodly degrees, well past 100," said registered nurse Charles Jarreau. "It was do or die. Save your patients. It was like war."

The state attorney general's office earlier this week opened an investigation into why 45 bodies were found inside after the hospital emptied.

The doctors and nurses who were there said they did the best they could -- recalling stories of how Jarreau's chest was crushed when he helped lift a 400-pound man in a wheelchair into a helicopter, and the two doctors who hot-wired a fishing boat in a lot across the street to transport patients.

They said 10 of the bodies in the hospital were already in the morgue, waiting for funeral homes to retrieve them. Jarreau said about 11 patients died after the generator ran out of fuel and there was no way to run suction machines. "They essentially drowned in their own secretions," Jarreau, 26, said with a whisper from the Baton Rouge home of a relative where he is recovering. "We tried to make every patient comfortable, to have dignity."

The rest of the dead patients were from an 82-bed acute long-term-care facility on the seventh floor run separately by LifeCare Hospitals, the doctors and nurses said. A LifeCare spokeswoman, Rosemary Plorine, said those patients "had end-of-life diseases and were fragile" and the company was not clear on when they died. She said all living patients were evacuated.

After there were already two bodies per drawer in the morgue, they were kept in the chapel. Dr. John Kokemor said that was done out of respect, not because the chapel was the only space available.

Kokemor and other staff members said they welcome an investigation, that they are eager to tell officials that no patients were abandoned and that no euthanasia took place, as had been charged in some reports.

Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns and operates Memorial, said through a spokesman, "After Memorial was evacuated, we provided private security to protect the bodies of those who had died, and we asked repeatedly for their removal by the coroner. Because of the crisis, it took until Sept. 11 for the coroner to accomplish the removal."


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