NEW ORLEANS -- Almost two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged this city, a grand jury here refused to indict Anna M. Pou, M.D., in the deaths of four elderly patients at Memorial Medical Center.
NEW ORLEANS, July 25 -- Almost two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged this city, a grand jury here refused to indict Anna M. Pou, M.D., in the deaths of four elderly patients at Memorial Medical Center.
Dr. Pou, an otolaryngologist and associate professor at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, was accused of administering lethal injections of morphine and Versed to the patients who were among the dozens stranded in the sweltering, flooded hospital for three days.
Last year, Charles C. Foti, Jr., the state's attorney general, ordered the arrest of Dr. Pou and two nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, on charges of second-degree murder.
Prosecution of the case was handed over to Eddie J. Jordan, Jr., the Orleans Parish district attorney, who presented it to the grand jury. Jordan told reporters he agreed with the grand jury decision. Foti, however, faulted Jordan for not aggressively pursuing an indictment.
The case before the grand jury focused solely on Dr. Pou, after the two nurses were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony, a deal that was revealed last month.
When he announced the arrests last year, Foti said Dr. Pou and the nurses were observed filling syringes with a lethal mixture and discussing administering lethal doses to the patients.
Dr. Pou has maintained that her only goal was to make patients comfortable.
The Louisiana State Medical Society, which has supported Dr. Pou throughout the criminal investigation, released a statement noting that it was "extremely pleased and relieved" by the grand jury decision.
The state society said it "strongly believes that Dr. Pou courageously performed her duties as a physician under the most challenging and horrific conditions. The decisions she made were in the best interests of the patients under her care. We hope the grand jury's decision will remove the 'chilling effect' these charges have had, and encourage physicians and other health care providers to continue to volunteer during disaster and emergency situations."
Dr. Pou, 51, said she had spent the past year teaching, but now planned to resume her medical practice. She said, however, that she still faces civil suits from families of three of the patients.
The deaths occurred on Sept. 1, 2005, which was the day before help finally arrived to evacuate patients from the hospital, which had been without power for three days. Temperatures at the hospital were over 100 degrees, and Dr. Pou and the nurses were among only a handful of medical professionals who remained on duty to care for the stranded patients.
Evacuation was finally accomplished by an airlift from the hospital roof, but patients had to be squeezed through a hole and carried up several flights of stairs to get to the roof. Thirty-four patients died during the long ordeal.