Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Now the laywers are moving in

posted by Rob at 7:50 AM

The Blame Game has officially started down in New Orleans, as criminal charges are possible in the deaths of 34 nursing home residents:
At the center of the probe is St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish and why its owners didn't evacuate the facility ahead of Katrina.

Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, called the actions by St. Rita's administrators "shocking" and the "worst example of negligence."

This story is slowly gaining more spotlight. Last week the Dallas Morning News had this report (emphasis mine):
When St. Bernard Parish officials realized last week that St. Rita's Nursing Home had not evacuated as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the parish, they called to ask why. Their offer to send buses to help was turned down, they said Wednesday. ...

St. Rita's had the required evacuation plan: Ambulances would be called to take bedridden patients away, and the others would be evacuated by school buses. At least 60 patients and six staffers may have been in the building when Katrina hit.

Parish coroner Dr. Bryan Bertucci said several of the parish's other nursing homes evacuated during the weekend, but St. Rita's staffers never put their plan into effect.

Sunday afternoon, Dr. Bertucci said, he checked with St. Rita's staff to see why. He said the owner, Mabel Mangano, told him she had five special-needs patients, and an ambulance hadn't come to pick them up. Officials said she also told them that she had spoken with the families of patients who said it was okay to stay behind.

The New York Times from Sept. 6 has this detail:
Steve Kuiper, vice president of operations for Acadian Ambulance, said he was told that St. Rita's had an evacuation plan that depended on another nursing home. Acadian, by far the largest ambulance provider in the state, used helicopters to evacuate many of the parish's neediest medical cases after the storm hit. But Mr. Kuiper said he never heard from St. Rita's.

"They didn't think this would ever happen," Mr. Melerine said. "They just didn't evacuate."

The failure at St. Rita's is particularly difficult to explain. The home is in a depression in the ground. The nearby road, which was covered with four or five feet of water, sits at least five feet above the home's floor. The home appears in retrospect to be particularly vulnerable to flood. Efforts to reach its management late Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The Vancouver Sun had a particularly gruesome take on the story last week, and the Herald Sun way down under has this:

An official at Jefferson, 80km south of New Orleans, broke down as he recounted the ordeal of the elderly mother of one city employee who was trapped in the St Bernard home awaiting rescue.

"Every day she called him and said, 'Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' " Aaron Broussard said.

"And he said, 'Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday.' And she drowned Friday night.

"It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here," Mr Broussard said. "Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area."

Kaus has been debating that bureaucracy for the past several days (Ann Coulter is his current foe). The Claremont Institute also had comments regarding St. Rita's:

The (New York Times) article throws in some by-now ritual references to why state or federal authorities didn't do more to help, but there are clear indications that the problem began with the nursing home staff, to which I would add the New Orleans city government which delayed evacuations and failed to provide bus transportation. But at a more basic level, there is paralysis, disbelief, uncooperativeness, ignorance, even stupidity at work here.


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