Monday, July 02, 2007

A Conspiracy Theorist Couldn't Make This Up

Hospital patients suffered mightily for 5 days in Memorial Hospital's LifeCare Unit after Hurricane Katrina's landfall. As a separate hospital organization LifeCare employed doctors and nurses to care for patients while contracting with Tenet's Memorial for other services. Doctors were credentialed and given specific privileges to provide care for LifeCare's long term acute care patients. Nurses had to meet basic competencies for hire and needed to show on an ongoing basis their ability to perform their duties. None of this went away after Hurricane Katrina struck as both LifeCare and Memorial implemented their disaster plans.

Yet, somehow in the aftermath LifeCare administrators couldn't keep Memorial clinicians away from their patients. A number of patients were reported euthanized and both a doctor and nurses have been criminally charged.

The company would have us believe their legal duty to patients evaporated upon the disaster decree of President Bush and the arrival of FEMA reps in New Orleans. However this unusual defense follows other strange happenings in this case. The most notable is the White House Lessons Learned report's failure to mention the hospital with the highest number of patient deaths post Katrina. Such an obvious omission raised questions in my mind over a year ago, including what benefit might Carlyle get in those wrongful death civil lawsuits from federal silence?

The public heard nothing from crackerjack White House "investigators"on hospital patient evacuations other than a few hero stories. This lack of information grew when a court sealed a settled civil suit between the two hospital companies, LifeCare and Tenet. The two firms divided up responsibility for the aftermath, but the public remains in the dark.

Now Carlyle's ace legal team is trying to move the case to federal court away from any sympathetic jurors. If approved, appeals would lead to the newly business friendly Supreme Court. Are patients like class action shareholders or taxpayers?

If the White House and Carlyle are in cahoots over this case how might it run? First, the feds don't weigh in at all on the Carlyle sub's actions. Check, done that. Second, blame it on the federal government thus increasing the chances of going through friendlier federal courts. Check, done that. Third, have the feds blame state and local authorities for not evacuating patients as required by FEMA. Ditto, completed. Fourth, the federal court throws out the cases or rules against plaintiffs because the federal government is not liable. Fifth, let the process run long enough that all statutes of limitations run.

Three down, two to go. I'm sure a more astute legal mind could add or detract from this scenario. As a hospital administrator who endured for days in a river flooded 725 bed hospital in Virginia and evacuated a Texas Gulf Coast 150 bed facility before then record Hurricane Gilbert, I may empathize with patients and staff enduring in such horrific conditions. I find it hard to round up any compassion for the bureaucrats writing drivel in the Lessons Learned report or for Carlyle's attorneys making up patently ridiculous defenses.

For those watching today's business news, do you want The Carlyle Group owning one of the largest long term care chains in the U.S.? They just signed a deal to acquire Manor Care. Will they do any better post disaster with Manor Care patients than they did with LifeCare's? We already know they claim no liability for the later. Someone should challenge the acquisition on this basis alone...

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