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New book highlights hospital negligence during Hurricane Katrina

It is not every day that a book is published detailing a serious case of hospital negligence. A book has recently been released, however, about one of Hurricane Katrina’s unspoken tragedies. “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” details the case of Memorial Medical Center, in which many patients died during Katrina and its aftermath as the hospital lacked a backup plan in the case of an emergency.

Though the book discusses New Orleans and the challenges there, the issues presented may be of interest here in Arizona and nationwide.

The author recalls difficult decisions made in crunch time by doctors and nurses put under extraordinary pressure. Those doctors, the book asserts, were given few options as storm waters rushed through the city and the hospital’s generators – all located on the ground level – became inoperable. These hospital injuries were fatal for many, as hospital staff were left helpless, in part, because the company that owned the hospital failed to immediately evacuate.

This book deals with a national tragedy of scale, but it may not take a storm like Katrina to expose these deficiencies. Delayed assistance from medical professionals, medical errors and unsafe facilities can harm patients when a hospital is not prepared to handle emergencies.

In 2011, the hospital chain did settle a class-action lawsuit regarding the Hurricane Katrina-related patient deaths at Memorial Hospital. Hopefully, the publicity surrounding the deficiencies at hospitals during that storm has encouraged hospitals here in Arizona to ensure that appropriate and effective plans are in place in case of emergencies. 

Source: Arizona Public Radio, “'Five Days' Of Ambiguous Morality At Katrina-Hit Hospital,” Susan Jane Gilman, Sept. 8, 2013

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*Certified Specialist in Injury and Wrongful Death Litigation by the State Bar of Arizona, Board of Legal Specialization