- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Scores of doctors, nurses and support staff at Memorial Medical Center have been subpoenaed as the state investigates deaths and possible instances of euthanasia at hospitals and nursing homes in the New Orleans area during and after Hurricane Katrina.

“All we can say is that we had to issue the subpoenas to get those people to talk to us,” said Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti. “We were having trouble getting people to talk to us.”

The 73 subpoenas included people who were at the hospital during the storm and its aftermath or who “knew something about it,” Miss Wartelle said.

Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns the hospital, has said 10 of its patients and 24 patients in a facility run in the hospital by LifeCare Holdings Inc., a separate company, died after the hospital was cut off by floodwaters.

Tenet also has said its morgue held as many as 11 patients who died before the storm, but whose bodies could not be retrieved by the coroner or funeral homes because of the approaching hurricane.

The hospital said it had not tried to keep employees from talking to investigators.

In a memo dated Oct. 14 and obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press, Tenet’s assistant general counsel told Memorial employees that it was their decision whether to talk to investigators or the press.

If an employee talks to investigators, “you have a right to request that a hospital representative appear with you,” said Audrey Andrews, the Tenet lawyer. “It is often prudent to have a third party present in such situations to ensure that your words are not inadvertently misconstrued or taken out of context.”

The memo advised employees to speak first to a lawyer, and it listed the phone number for the hospital’s lawyer.

Tracie Gravolet, director of human resources at Memorial, which had 1,600 employees before the hurricane, said that about a dozen in recent weeks had asked her for advice on responding to investigators’ calls.

Miss Gravolet said she didn’t know how many had spoken to investigators.

At least 140 patients at New Orleans-area hospitals and nursing homes died during the storm and its aftermath. Two owners of a nursing home in St. Bernard Parish were charged last month with 34 counts of negligent homicide for flood deaths at that facility.

Miss Wartelle previously said six hospitals and 13 nursing homes in Louisiana are under investigation over accusations that included patients being abandoned, evacuated improperly or euthanized to spare them from further suffering while waiting for rescuers to arrive.

Miss Wartelle said she did not know of subpoenas issued to any other hospitals or nursing homes.

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