Abandoned Patients a New Low in Katrina Story

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NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr remarks that perhaps one of the saddest tragedies of the disaster in New Orleans is that a number of centers for medical care — hospitals and nursing homes — were unable to protect their patients.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Statistics from the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina tell varying stories about the people affected by the storm. According to the government, almost 50,000 people were rescued. And then there are those who weren't; that number is growing. And news analyst Daniel Schorr says many who didn't get help were the ones who most needed it.

DANIEL SCHORR:

Katrina has given us many acts of valor and volunteerism, but also some less pretty things: the rampant crime and looting, the evidence of racial and class division in the evacuation of the threatened and, perhaps most dismaying of all, the patients who died in health-care facilities supposed to sustain them.

At times, it seemed as though the last to be cared for were the most vulnerable. Forty-five bodies were found in New Orleans Memorial Medical Center, where the staff said they lacked the supplies and equipment that could have kept people alive until they could be evacuated, like running water and air conditioning. Thirty-four died in the privately owned St. Rita's nursing home, and the couple who operated the facility have been charged with negligent homicide. There may be more.

Virginia McCall, who was in charge of the intensive care unit at Methodist Hospital in New Orleans, told us that 15 or 16 patients died while the hospital waited for food, fuel and generators. Ms. McCall described how babies were born and old people died. She and her son hand-pumped air into desperate lungs.

The New York Times reported today that two public hospitals, Charity and University, lacked money to hire helicopter companies, and so their patients were the last to be evacuated. Twenty-eight babies were evacuated; the bodies of 20 patients were left behind.

Hospital patients make up a large slice of the hundreds of fatalities in the storm and the flood. Could all of this have been foreseen? John Finn, president of the Metropolitan Hospital Council of New Orleans, says that the chiefs of the city's 20 hospitals ran a planning exercise last year and concluded that they should come up with a plan to cope with a devastating hurricane. The hurricane came before the plan. This is Daniel Schorr.

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