Saturday, September 8, 2007

Katrina Nursing Home Owners Aquited

Justice was served when the jury acquitted the operators of St. Rita's nursing home in New Orleans, on 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the infirm today. The Manganos, age 64 and 67 have run that home for 20 years and have been through many hurricanes. Katrina was different. The water surge and levee break caused water to rapidly rise and evacuation of all the bed bound and demented patients was impossible. The Manganos managed to rescue 24 frail patients but the others drowned.

Of the 1400 Katrina deaths, one hundred forty patients died in nursing homes and hospitals. As a medical volunteer, I saw the destruction and experienced the human drama after Katrina. I know first hand of the terrible conditions from the storm and aftermath. St. Bernard's Parish was one of the worst hit. Mile after mile was silent, oozing water and mud with only the sad, sick animals showing signs of life. The graveyard crypts were open, with caskets flung around, accentuating the devastating scene.

I was at St. Rita's nursing home in St. Bernards Parish for body recovery, acting as medical support for the search team. The bodies had been there for over a week. We did not know ahead how many bodies were there, and it was a secret mission because the press was already blasting the governor for the lack of response. They wanted this to be handled without reporters, but we were photographed from a helicoptor above. That photo ran in Time magazine but no-one knew what we were experiencing on the ground.

Even with the National Guard on the scene a week after the storm, communication was zero and organization was sketchy. People looked to me as the expert of our recovery team and I had no working phone, no map of the area, no GPS or knowledge of how to get help. A local policeman flagged our team down and begged us to look inside his parent's flooded home because they were missing. We found their bodies with 2 neighbors bodies, wearing life jackets, amid the rubble in the home. The policeman collapsed with grief and the medical treatment needed was aid to his soul. A member of our team collapsed from dehydration in the sweltering heat. We transported the bodies to the makeshift morgue located in another city and underwent decontamination ourselves. We ended that long day at 2:30AM.

No one should point fingers at anyone who was a victim and caught in this storm. Evacuation was not possible for thousands of people. They did not have the transportation or the ability, during a rapid flood, to evacuate bed ridden people. The Manganos did not abandon their charges and I can only imagine how difficult and frightening that awful night must have been.


Health Train Express said...

Toni I picked up your comment on Kevin MD and went to your blog. I commend you for travelling there to help out. No one who has not been in a catastrophic situation can fathom the reality of annihilation and elimination of our "fragile" society and it's support mechanisms....This was a "biblical event".....It pains me that two devoted caregivers were put throught this inquisition....was it avoidable..yes. The case should have been reviewed ahead of time by competent medical authorities. This was an outrage!

Rich said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I remember the finger pinting going on in the aftermath and the accused were victims as well -in some cases.

Toni Brayer MD said...

Thank you, Rich and HTE. My no blame comments equally apply to Dr. Pou, who was also put through the 2nd hell of an indictment (which, fortunately, the grand jury threw out). The conditions at Memorial Hospital were even worse with no electricity, water, elevators, respirators, supplies or bathrooms in stifling heat.
The fact that these caregivers ignored their own safety and families and stayed should win them the medal of honor, not a trial.

MedFriendly said...

Wow. Amazing to hear of your experiences there. The whole situation and how ineptly it was mismanaged by the government still gets me angry. I can't speak to the nursing home case because I don't know enough about it, but there really does not seem that there was much anyone can do in all of that horror. I had a patient who was so traumatized as to what he saw there that he still cannot speak of it. Kudos to you for helping out during the worst time in our history.

Dominic A. Carone, Ph.D.
Founder and Webmaster of and The MedFriendly blog.

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