Hospitals Agree to Settle Lawsuit Over Patient Deaths Following Katrina
Tenet Healthcare has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over patient deaths at a subsidiary New Orleans Hospital – Memorial Medical Center – occurring during Hurricane Katrina. The terms of the settlement are presently confidential.
The suit was brought on behalf of people who were either at Memorial or had a relative die there during the disaster. The lawsuit didn’t blame the hospital staff or doctors but, instead, blamed the hospital itself for creating an unsafe environment.
Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that Memorial was unprepared to care properly care for patients during the storm and failed to have an adequate evacuation plan in place that could have avoided death and injuries at the hospital. Patients were apparently trapped at the hospital for four days and had to endure a lack of food, water and adequate treatment in temperatures of over one hundred degrees. When officials finally arrived at the scene, they found more than 34 dead bodies, most of which had suffered from dehydration while patients waited to be, but never were, evacuated.
Lawyers for Tenet Healthcare (and Memorial) argued that they had no fault in the matter that the city’s failed levees and disorganized government response caused the deaths and injuries. The plaintiffs lawyers, however, were able to point to previous reports from 2004 which stated that Memorial did not follow recommendations to move underground components of their electric system to ground level, which plaintiffs alleged created a deadly environment. Furthermore, emergency backup power was supposed to last for more than 3 days during the disaster but failed in less than 2, cutting power to the air conditioning and medical air and vacuum suctions for patients.
The settlement is still awaiting court approval, but the lawsuit itself will hopefully have the effect of causing hospitals to address with greater urgency their level of preparedness for emergency situations.
Photo Credit: boliston