- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The arrest of two nursing-home owners in the deaths of 34 persons marked the beginning of what prosecutors said yesterday is a large-scale investigation into the treatment of patients during Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught.

The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office said all of its investigators have been pulled from other tasks to work on the Medicaid Fraud Unit, the team whose work led to homicide charges Tuesday against the husband-and-wife owners of the flooded-out St. Rita’s nursing home in Chalmette.

Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Charles Foti, said the office is looking into other charges of neglect that may have led to injuries or deaths at nursing homes and hospitals.

“Reports are flooding in. It just depends on what’s legitimate and what is not,” Miss Wartelle said.

Authorities said Louisiana’s death toll, which remains in the 400s, would be lower if nursing-home owners Salvador and Mable Mangano had heeded warnings to evacuate their patients as Katrina came ashore Aug. 29.

“The pathetic thing in this case was that they were asked if they wanted to move them and they did not,” Mr. Foti said. “They were warned repeatedly that this storm was coming. In effect, their inaction resulted in the deaths of these people.”

The Manganos were released on $50,000 bail each; each of the 34 counts against them carries up to five years in prison. Their attorney, Jim Cobb, said his clients were innocent and had waited for a mandatory evacuation order from the officials of St. Bernard Parish that never came.

Mr. Cobb said the Manganos were forced to make a difficult decision as Katrina approached: risk the health of the patients — many of them frail and on feeding tubes — in an evacuation, or keep them comfortable at the home through the storm.

Tom Rodrigue, whose mother died in the home, was not satisfied.

“She deserved the chance, you know, to be rescued instead of having to drown like a rat,” he said.

The attorney general is also investigating the discovery of more than 40 corpses at flooded-out Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. A hospital official said the 106-degree heat inside the hospital as the patients waited for days to be evacuated likely contributed to their deaths.

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