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Ethics, Patient Care, Podcasts

What happened inside New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital? A conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheri Fink

What happened inside New Orleans' Memorial Hospital? A conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheri Fink

Memorial Medical Center is seen Monday, Sept. 12, 2005, in New Orleans, after more than 40 bodies were recovered Sunday at the 317-bed hospital. Hospital assistant administrator David Goodson said patients died while waiting to be evacuated over the four days after the hurricane hit, as temperatures inside the hospital reached 106 degrees.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)What happened at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck and paralyzed the city? Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink details the hospital’s struggles for survival in her new book, Five Days at Memorial. It’s a harrowing tale of colossal failures within Memorial and also outside as the federal, state and local governments bungled their response. I find myself still outraged eight years later, wondering how a tragedy of this magnitude could happen to an American city.

In addition to the horror of a hospital in chaos due to a storm of historic proportions, the story of Memorial is filled with ethical conundrums about what constitutes humane health care. Did health care workers choose life for some patients and death for others? Three health care workers were arrested and faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected a number of patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. In the end, a New Orleans grand jury declined to indict even though the State Attorney General maintained to the end that a number of the dead were victims of homicide.

In her finely detailed investigative work, Fink brings the reader into Memorial for a minute by minute harrowing recounting of what happens when things fall apart in a hospital. Five Days at Memorial is a stunning read, and I was pleased to be able to talk with Fink at length for my latest 1:2:1 podcast. As I wrote in an earlier blog entry:

Put yourself [in place of the health care workers]. What would you have done? Are the ethical lines clear to you? Is what happened inside Memorial black and white? Or is it gray?

Fink holds an MD and PhD from Stanford’s School of Medicine.

Previously: Pulitzer Prize-winner Sheri Fink: the final hours at New Orleans Memorial, New York Times wins three Pulitzers for health stories and Murky waters: A look at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina
Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

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