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Guest column | Dr. Rao Musunuru

Medical good deeds punished

It is five years since New Orleans experienced the destruction and devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We have heard a lot about the inefficiency of the government, inadequate resources, insufficient preparation and incomplete immediate recovery. We have witnessed many heroic efforts displaying human compassion at its best. We also recently began to read about the positive results of human resilience and perseverance.

But we have not heard much about the story of Dr. Anna M. Pou.

Pou stayed at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center through the storm to help care for 2,000 people in stifling 100-degree heat, with no power and limited food and water. She did her best to help patients, along with other dedicated and committed health care personnel, under those difficult circumstances.

The recognition she received for her sacrifice is shocking. She was arrested at her home for allegedly conspiring with two nurses to kill four of the hospitalized patients by giving each too much pain medication.

How do we know that she is not a criminal who went through decades of rigorous training to be a medical doctor so she could kill a few patients deliberately at the right moment, enjoying the challenge of the most difficult circumstances imaginable? We don't. But a year after the arrest, an Orleans Parish grand jury declined to charge her and the nurses.

Put yourself in her shoes and imagine what she might have gone through for going out of her way to help others: dismay, disgust and disappointment — let alone sudden, total and permanent personal destruction.

One of my senior colleagues practiced medicine in Hernando County for many decades without a problem until he retired because of physical limitations. His giving heart did not let him rest. He began providing free medical care at an indigent clinic with a minimal support system. He was paid for that kind service with a generous malpractice suit (sovereign immunity helps to defend, but does not prevent the brutal agony of dealing with the lawsuit).

No surprise, the suit guaranteed the loss of his skilled, free, professional services to the needy, forever.

What does that say about us as a society? Litigious? Greedy? Unappreciative? Inappropriate? We dwell on our rights, but many times don't recognize our responsibilities. We expect and demand help, but many times forget to appreciate.

Many times, we fight to receive unfair compensation for unavoidable damages and wonder why products and services become so expensive. Many times, we don't follow the instructions to do things right and feel better by blaming others for wrong results.

Take health care: The fear of potential litigation leads to defensive medicine, which contributes to a significant portion of ever-escalating health care expenditures, in addition to many unintended and untoward consequences, for physicians and patients.

This social behavior is not limited to health care, by any means. For every simple issue, we go through layers and layers of lawyers, so the end result is mostly bitter, not better.

When are we going to learn and how are we going to change? We need to cure this. We can't afford not to.

Pou still faces a pending civil lawsuit. I do not know her personally, but I understand that she still practices and directs a residency program at Louisiana State University School of Medicine.

God bless her. Our society needs more people like Dr. Pou, and we need more people who appreciate, not destroy, good persons like her.

Dr. Rao Musunuru, a cardiologist, is president-elect of the Pasco County Medical Society and a board member for Good Samaritan Free Health Clinic in New Port Richey.

Medical good deeds punished 11/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 13, 2010 3:31am]
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