Imagine learning that the surgeon who performed the total thyroidectomy on your thyroid cancer patient was being charged with homicide for deliberately euthanizing ICU patients ?
Ten years ago today (September 1, 2005), one ENT surgeon, Anna Pou, found herself in the eye of the storm’s crippling aftermath, and instead of relying on her surgical skills, was thrust into the role of having to make disaster ethics triage decisions for a group of very sick ICU patients – most of whom were ventilator-dependent, who had been stranded in Memorial hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Is this part of the training of an ENT surgeon? No. And that proved disastrous for Anna Pou, who had to endure, along with two of her colleagues, charges of homicide consequent to evidence of euthanasia. (She was never indicted, and the charges were eventually dropped.)
Here is the 60 Minutes clip which originally aired 9/24/06 chronicling the ordeal of Dr. Pou and her nurse colleagues: http://www.memorialhospitaltruth.com/VTS_01_1.m4v
In 2013, Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/04/books/five-days-at-memorial-by-sheri-fink.html?_r=0), which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, chronicled the events that went on at Memorial Hospital during the catastrophic flooding following Hurricane Katrina, in which 19th Century medicine needed to be practiced at the turn of the 21st Century.
Many of the same challenges played out again during Hurricane Sandy: (See, for example: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/11/13/363606765/hurricane-sandy-stranded-dialysis-patients-lessons-learned and this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/hurricane-sandy-hospitals_n_2044000.html
What these events teach us is that Disaster Ethics has to be taught in medical schools and residency programs. We’re living in a time of climate change, a future of more powerful and frequent hurricanes (See: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140331-ipcc-report-global-warming-climate-change-science/), combined with vulnerable infrastructures (see: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/falling-apart-america-neglected-infrastructure/
Every healthcare provider in training or practice today is at risk of being in the eye of a storm as weather will only get worse, and vulnerable populations will only increase. Weather is predicted to get far more severe, and hospitals will need to ride out hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, blizzards, and ice storms. All of these weather systems can and wreak havoc on aging infrastructures, and knock out power, but the power grid itself is vulnerable even in the absence of extreme weather (see: http://www.weather.com/science/environment/news/climate-change-power-grid-risk-climate-central and http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304020104579433670284061220