The Louisiana attorney general is investigating whether staff at a New Orleans hospital may have euthanized frail patients in the days after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city and conditions in the facility deteriorated.
The agency is focusing on the actions of physicians and administrators at Memorial Medical Center but is also looking at 13 nursing homes and five other hospitals as part of a larger probe, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles Foti said Friday.
Rumors of euthanasia have repeatedly surfaced since Katrina struck the city on Aug. 29 and left the facilities without water and power for days afterward, said Foti spokeswoman Kris Wartelle.
Witnesses have said conditions at Memorial hospital quickly deteriorated as temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside the building and the sanitation system broke down.
The probe has been stepped up since CNN reported on Thursday that a doctor at Memorial Medical said discussions of euthanasia had taken place there, although he never saw it performed.
“We have heard the reports,” Wartelle said. “It’s become a very serious investigation on that facility.”
Dr. Bryant King told CNN that a few doctors and hospital administrators debated the issue as they tried to evacuate nearly 2,000 patients and family members from the facility in the three days following the storm. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The attorney general has ordered autopsies of 45 bodies removed from the hospital after the storm. Of those, 11 died before Katrina and were being held in the hospital’s morgue. Most of the remaining 34 people were patients in a long-term care unit located at the hospital.
Hospital officials say they have been cooperating with the state’s investigation and will continue to do so.
“We understand that the Louisiana attorney general is investigating all deaths that occurred at New Orleans hospitals and nursing homes after the hurricane, and we fully support and are cooperating with him,” said Steven Capanini, a spokesman for Tenet Health Care system, which owns Memorial, in a prepared statement.
The center’s chief of anesthesiology said he cannot speak for the discussions of individual physicians in a facility that spans several city blocks.
But at no time was euthanasia ever considered by the facility’s management team, he said.
“I can’t control what individuals do but there was a concerted effort to get patients, families and staff out of the facility,” said Dr. Glenn Casey, adding that the allegations have unfairly tarnished the staff’s Herculean efforts following the storm.
“The people who were providing care are now being attacked,” Casey said. “The staff put in 18-hour days in 115 degree heat to save lives ... The attorney general is investigating heroes.”