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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Officials should not have charged nursing home

Public catastrophes have a way of turning into private blame games, but usually not as quickly as has happened in New Orleans.

Unless there are facts he is keeping quiet, we suspect Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. would have served his constituents better if he had refrained from charging a couple that owned a nursing home with 34 counts of negligent homicide.

Hurricane-triggered floodwaters killed 34 at St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans, on Aug. 29.

Mable and Salvador Mangano Sr., both 65, faced a difficult decision as Hurricane Katrina bore down on their nursing home. Should they attempt to evacuate their 80-plus residents, a choice that could have easily resulted in fatalities, or try to ride out the storm?

An evacuation, especially a hurried one, posed a risk to many patients. The owners called the families of each patient to advise they would try to weather the storm. Only six families decided to pick up patients. The owners stayed in the building with the residents, as did many of the owners' relatives.

When offered a bus shortly before Katrina hit, one of the owners allegedly said, "I have five nurses, I have a generator, and I've spoken to the families and they said it was OK."

Plenty of intelligent people, including state and city officials, made the same mistake.

According to CNN, Mr. Foti "said it was unclear whether all 34 bodies were patients, family members or people who had sought refuge in the home." Why file 34 homicide charges without knowing the relationship between the dead and the charged?

The answer, we fear, has more to do with politics than justice. There will be plenty of time for charges down the road. Now is the time for public officials and citizens to mitigate the ongoing catastrophe, not to score political points.

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