Tenet settles Katrina lawsuit on emergency unpreparedness for $25M

In a lesson for hospitals everywhere, Tenet Healthcare Corporation's settlement for $25 million was preliminarily approved yesterday, to conclude a class-action lawsuit in which patients and families of victims trapped in Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina alleged Tenet's emergency preparedness at Memorial Medical was insufficient.

Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Rosemary Ledet, who approved the settlement, called the settlement "fair, reasonable and adequate," reports ProPublica.

The number of class members is unknown. There were 187 patients and about 800 visitors in the hospital during the emergency.

After the 2005 storm hit, there were 45 bodies found at the medical center. Some doctors said they injected patients with drugs to speed up their deaths, although no formal charges were brought against them, according to the article.

Tenet denies the allegations in the case. According to the article, the hospital's backup generators failed, and rescue helicopters arrived two days after the hospital flooded. Tenet and hospitals solicited the help of FEMA, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, state officials and private ambulance companies, but attorneys said the government response was chaotic.

According to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports, three-quarter of hospitals are now prepared for disasters, with 76 percent of hospitals that participate in the National Hospital Preparedness Program meeting 90 percent or more of measures for all-hazards preparedness in 2009.

"Our country should overcome our federalist history and bring these [efforts] together on a national mission to respond to large-scale emergencies on a very fast responsive basis. It's doable," Clif Carothers, president of EPI-Center, Inc., a company that specializes in medical evacuation, and president of care transportation company U.S. Air Ambulance, said in an interview with FierceHealthcare.

For more:
read the ProPublica article