Hospital Settles Katrina Deaths Class Action

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A class action involving deaths of patients at a major New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina has been settled. Forty-five bodies were recovered from Memorial Medical Center, then owned by Tenet Health Systems, after the August 2005 storm left 85 percent of New Orleans underwater.
     The terms of the settlement were not released.
     The plaintiffs are family members of people who died at Memorial, employees of LifeCare Hospitals, a health care company that leased space from Tenet, and visitors to the hospital who were trapped by the storm.
     Rick Black, a spokesman for Tenet, said in a statement Wednesday: "This has been a long and difficult situation for all concerned, but the parties are pleased to be able to announce that an amicable resolution has been reached subject to court approval at a later date."
     Lawyers on Wednesday were selecting the jury for what was slated to be a 6-week trial, when the settlement was announced.
     The settlement is subject to approval by presiding Orleans Parish Court Judge Rosemary Ledet.
     The plaintiffs accused Tenet of being unprepared for the storm, which flooded the first floors of the building, inundating the hospital's backup generator. Without a generator the hospital had no electricity, and temperatures inside rose above 100 degrees.
     The plaintiffs said Tenet should have had an emergency backup plan for loss of power, and should have followed proper evacuation plans.
     Ultimately, more than 2,000 people, including hospital staff, patients, and storm survivors off the street who were given shelter against the flood, waited for 4 days to be evacuated from the hospital, as food and water supplies dwindled.
     The hospital arranged for patients to be airlifted from the rooftop, as the whole area around the hospital was underwater.
     The 45 bodies recovered from the hospital were the largest number of deaths in any hospital in the city during the storm.
     In summer 2006, one year after the storm, Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti brought about a criminal investigation into the Memorial deaths, accusing a doctor and two nurses of euthanizing some of the sickest patients. The three accused were arrested that summer. In 2007, the case was refused by a state grand jury.
     The Times-Picayune newspaper reported that plaintiff attorneys said the focus of this trial was not to be on the doctors, but on the conditions of the hospital.
     Tony Clayton, an attorney for Tenet, said in a TV news interview Tuesday that the defense planned to emphasize that Memorial employees stayed behind to care for the hospital's patients, and that the hospital kept its doors open for people who needed shelter.