Book Looks At Storm Problems

Staff Writer

An award-winning journalist discussed how hospitals reacted to two recent hurricanes and if they are prepared for a future storm.

Sheri Fink hosted a discussion on her new book, “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” at the Central Queens Y in Forest Hills Monday afternoon. Fink won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for reporting and publishing an article on which this book is based.

The book examines the different dilemmas hospitals face when caring for people during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. This includes determining who is prioritized in terms of care and who should be evacuated first if patients in the hospital are trapped due to the high flood waters.

Specifically, it focuses on troubles faced at New Orleans Memorial Medical Hospital and similar problems at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.

In New Orleans, flooding from Katrina stranded many patients, forcing them to live on limited supplies while the city recovered in the aftermath of the hurricane.

As the flood waters rapidly grew, helicopters and boats came to the hospital to rescue the stranded patients. But a dilemma was created after realizing that the structures could only fit a limited number of people. The question then became, who should be rescued first?

Fink posed this question to the audience, who gave multiple answers, ranging from babies and children to the critically ill patients and women who are in labor.

An investigation found that many of the 45 bodies discovered at the hospital were injected with morphine and other drugs. Dr. Anna Pou and two other nurses were arrested and charged with killing the patients. The case never went to trial and the charges were dropped.

Fink said many of the same problems affecting New Orleans and its facilities also applies to Superstorm Sandy and how New York’s infrastructure was unprepared for a storm of that magnitude.

“It was horrible to see some of the same kinds of problems playing out,” she said. “We saw that vital parts of the infrastructure were not protected and therefore the most vulnerable in our society were not protected from the effects of the storm.”

Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127,, or @luisgronda.