Beliefnet News

By Gwen Filosa and John Pope
New Orleans — Closing one of the most sensational chapters in post-Katrina New Orleans, Dr. Anna Pou said she fell to her knees and thanked God when she learned Tuesday (July 24) that a grand jury had refused to charge her with murdering patients in Memorial Medical Center in the days after the hurricane struck.
Speaking in a voice choked with emotion, Pou did not smile or gloat over the end of an ordeal that began when she and two nurses were arrested a year ago.
“This is not a triumph, but a moment of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the storm and those who stayed at their posts to serve those in need,” she said.
Pou still faces four civil suits in connection with the deaths, but her colleagues cheered the end of the criminal case. So did the Louisiana State Medical Society and the American Medical Association, both of which issued statements saying Pou, who never was charged in the deaths, should not have been arrested.
Pou “courageously performed her duties as a physician under the most challenging and horrific conditions,” the state society said in a statement. “The decisions she made were in the best interests of the patients.”
Arrested with Pou, a head and neck surgeon who specializes in reconstructive surgery, were nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo. State Attorney General Charles Foti accused the three of murder in the deaths of nine patients in LifeCare Hospital, a section of the Uptown medical center reserved for frail patients.
Foti, who contended the three had administered lethal injections of painkillers and sedatives, turned over the case to Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan. The grand jury was sworn in in March, but Jordan said he did not start presenting the case until May.
Originally, the three women were accused of killing four patients, but that number grew to nine. Thirty-four patients were reported to have died before the hospital was evacuated.
Landry and Budo were given immunity in return for their grand jury testimony.
“I think justice has been served with due process,” Jordan said Tuesday. “I think the grand jury did the right thing. The grand jury considered all the evidence — carefully considered. They concluded no crime had been committed.”
Since the storm, Pou has worked at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. Her boss, Dr. Daniel Nuss, who had recruited her, called the grand jury’s decision “a huge, huge leap forward.”
“Knowing the three people, I knew that the charges were egregious,” Nuss said.
Pou and the nurses were among the medical personnel on hand at Memorial Medical Center during and after Katrina. The eight-story, 317-bed facility became an island surrounded by 15 feet of floodwater. Although it was envisioned as a haven, the hospital lost electricity and became sweltering as the temperature inside hit 110 degrees.
The investigation elicited outrage from the New Orleans medical community, which organized a protest last week to mark the one-year anniversary of Pou’s arrest. More than 1,000 people showed up in support of Pou and the fragile health care system that is still recovering post-Katrina.
Memorial Medical Center has been closed since the storm, and it has a new name. The 81-year-old hospital, known for 67 years as Southern Baptist Hospital, was sold last year to the Ochsner medical empire and was renamed Ochsner Baptist Medical Center.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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