Dr. Anna Pao Speaks About Post-Katrina Hospital Experience
Anna Pao, the New Orleans physician accused of murdering nine hospital patients in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina has told her story to Newsweek. She speaks of conditions in the hospital, the agony of decision-making in such a desperate situation, and what happened when the lights went out. Pao reports:
It was always everybody’s hope that every single person would make it out of the hospital. Everybody did everything to make that happen. What you have to do when resources are limited, you have to save the people you know that you can save. And not everybody is going to survive those kind of conditions. And we knew that. People were dying. People were dying in the hospital. Not through lack of effort. Healthy people were getting sick. Employees’ family members were getting sick. People from the neighborhood came in getting sick. We were trying to find insulin for people. It was a mass of people—very chaotic. You have to realize there were people everywhere, not only patients, but 2,000 people in the hospital. That is a lot of people.
I have tremendous sympathy and appreciation for medical care providers who must do their jobs in situations of danger and emergency. With limited resources, a triage system is generally considered acceptable for allocating those resources and care. One specific triage category is the black tag – these are the folks who are “circling the drain,” the people you can only make comfortable, the people who are expected to die given their injuries or illnesses and the available medical assistance. This sounds uncaring, but it frees up providers to save those who can reasonably be expected to be savable. It’s a harsh reality, and one we don’t like to think about, decisions we don’t want to make. The fact is, those decisions do sometimes have to be made. Dr. Pao stayed until the hospital was empty, after so many had left. It’s hard to judge what people do when the United States looks like it did post-Katrina, and I think most of hope we never have to summon the strength to make those decisions.