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Thursday, October 27, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hospital workers subpoeaned in euthanasia investigation in New Orleans

The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. – Scores of doctors, nurses and support staff at Memorial Hospital have been subpoenaed as the state investigates deaths and possible euthanasia at hospitals and nursing homes in the New Orleans area during and after Hurricane Katrina.

"All we can say is that we had to issue the subpoenas to get those people to talk to us," said Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles Foti.

"We were having trouble getting people to talk to us," she said.

The 73 subpoenas included people who were at the hospital during the storm and its aftermath or "knew something about it," Wartelle said.

Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns the hospital, has said 10 of its own patients and 24 patients in a facility run by LifeCare Holdings Inc., a separate company, died after the hospital was cut off by flood waters.

Tenet has also said its morgue held as many as 11 other patients who died before the storm, but whose bodies could not be retrieved by the coroner or funeral homes because of the approaching storm.

The hospital said it had not tried to keep employees from talking to investigators.

In a memo dated Oct. 14 and obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Tenet's assistant general counsel told Memorial employees it was their decision whether to talk to investigators or the media.

If an employee talks to investigators, "you have a right to request that a hospital representative appear with you," added the Tenet lawyer, Audrey Andrews. "It is often prudent to have a third party present in such situations to ensure that your words are not inadvertently misconstrued or taken out of context."

The memo advised employees to speak first to a lawyer and it listed the phone number for the hospital's lawyer.

Tracie Gravolet, director of human resources at Memorial, which had 1,600 employees before the hurricane, said about a dozen in recent weeks had asked her for advice on responding to investigators' calls.

Gravolet said she didn't know how many spoke to investigators.

At least 140 patients at New Orleans-area hospitals and nursing homes died during the storm and its aftermath. Two owners of a nursing home in St. Bernard Parish were charged last month with 34 counts of negligent homicide for flood deaths at that facility.

Wartelle has said previously that six hospitals and 13 nursing homes in Louisiana are under investigation. Allegations include patients being abandoned, evacuated improperly or euthanized, to spare them from further suffering while waiting for rescuers to arrive, she has said.

Wartelle said she did not know of subpoenas issued to any other hospitals or nursing homes.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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