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La. doctors criticize murder charges in Katrina deaths

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 23, 2006


NEW ORLEANS - To Louisiana's attorney general, the doctor and two nurses arrested this past week are murderers. But many in the medical community are criticizing the arrests, saying the three caregivers are heroes who faced horrors as Hurricane Katrina flooded the city and trapped them and their patients.

Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo were accused of being principals to second-degree murder in the deaths of four patients at Memorial Medical Center three days after Katrina hit. The state will turn the case over to the New Orleans prosecutor, who will decide whether to ask a grand jury to bring charges.

Pou, Landry and Budo are accused of killing four patients, ages 61 to 90, with morphine and a powerful sedative called Versed.

Dr. Ben deBoisblanc, director of critical care at Charity Hospital, said he is angry at the accusations against a doctor and nurses who risked their own safety, and provided care in a chaotic and frightening situation.

Memorial Medical was swamped with 10 feet of water and isolated by Katrina's flooding. The 317-bed hospital had no electricity and the temperature inside rose to more than 100 degrees as the staff tried to tend to patients who waited four days to be evacuated.

"This doctor and these nurses were heroes. They stayed behind of their own volition to care for desperately ill people. They had an opportunity to leave and chose not to," he said.

But Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the agency had to investigate the claims at Memorial, and asked: "Where is the sympathy for the victims?"

"Why is there no outcry for the people who would have not died had they gotten out?" she said. "These are not terminal people begging to be put out of their misery."

Attorneys for the three women say they are innocent. DeBoisblanc and others say they are concerned the accusations could discourage other health professionals.

"We have people who are volunteering their services and putting their lives on the line. It's going to make it less likely they'll do that in the future," said Dr. Peter deBlieux, an emergency room and intensive care doctor who stayed at Charity Hospital during Katrina.

DeBoisblanc said it's also likely to make doctors less eager to return as the city tries to recover from the hurricane.

Pou, Landry and Budo were the first medical professionals charged in a monthslong criminal investigation into whether many of New Orleans' sick and elderly were abandoned or put out of their misery in the days after the storm.

[Last modified July 23, 2006, 01:31:39]


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