About The New York Times Article

What it says and what it doesn’t
For nearly three years, Sheri Fink, author of the August 28, 2009 New York Times article, worked aggressively to chronicle the events at Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina.  To her credit, she devoted an endless amount of time and effort to her research.  

However, her work far too often misses the mark on real facts.  It relies too much on unattributed third-party commentary which, in effect, should be treated as rumor, innuendo and hearsay, none of which would ever stand up in a court of law. The New York Times magazine, has no compunction about declaring this approach to crafting an article, “journalism”. The public at-large knows better: it’s gossip).  

Sheri Fink first came in to Dr. Pou’s life seeking to write “Dr. Pou’s story”.  Due to lingering civil law suits, an acute sensitivity to the family members of those who died at Memorial and in point of honest fact, Sheri Fink’s lack of meaningful journalistic credentials, her offer was respectfully declined. 

Still, Fink persisted and repeated her offer and interest on several occasions.  Once it became clear that Dr. Pou had no intention of pursuing such a relationship, Fink, so she claimed at the time, shifted gears and indicated that she was planning an article on disaster medicine, medical triage and efforts to reform laws relating to the service of medical professionals during declared emergencies.  (It is noteworthy that less than 5% of the New York Times article is devoted to that subject, clearly making that important subject an add-on rather than the central focus of her story). 

For months, until in fact, she finally admitted her real intentions, Fink continued to profess this approach, telling many people she contacted for comments that this was her chosen story angle. 

In some instances we are told that she promoted herself as a researcher affiliated with Tulane University; for others it seems she touted an affiliation with Harvard.  Often she mentioned her “friendship” with Dr. Pou, an exaggeration at best and outright distortion in reality. 

In fairness to Sheri Fink, she did it seems, periodically though not often mention that she was working on an article she hoped to have published.  Always—always-- she denied having a contract or a relationship with any editor or publisher, until all her interviews were complete and she asked for an opportunity to “fact check” limited aspects of her article with Dr. Pou in late July 2009. 

Those of us who heard her repeatedly declared that she was “still shopping” her story would love to know when Pro Publica employed her to write this story and when a contract with the Times was executed.  Our guess is that it was long before she finally came clean about her motives and publishing partners.  Did she really have a contract and publisher at the time she was denying that this was the case?  Facts it seems, are a sticky thing. 

Colleagues of Dr. Pou have repeatedly stated that they would never have agreed to speak with Sheri Fink if she had been truthful about her intent or employment status.  Like 99% of America, they consider the entire tragedy at Memorial a painful but closed chapter. 

Sadly, what’s clear from the above is that Sheri Fink’s own credibility is as much in question as many of her “facts”. 

Perhaps what is most noteworthy about this article is what is not said and apparently never asked: 

• Why were 19 LifeCare patients brought from the LifeCare facility in
• Chalmette, Louisiana to Memorial Hospital…from one notorious floodplain
•  to another, instead of being safely removed far from the path of the storm?
•  After all, LifeCare has other facilities in Louisiana. 

• Was this a sound medical decision or one rooted in controlling costs and
•  maximizing profits?  Who authorized the decision and why aren’t they being
•  held responsible?  Were they at Memorial to help or were they at the corporate
◦ office in Dallas watching from the comfort of their air conditioned office suites? 

• Adding 19 new acute care patients to the hospital’s already high patient count
• without adding additional medical staff to care for them put all patients at
• Memorial in greater peril. 

• Why did LifeCare’s medical director leave Memorial before the storm struck,
◦ leaving other non-LifeCare employees to care for his patients? 

• Why didn’t Sheri Fink interview him and why didn’t she ask these important questions?
• If they saw the things they said they saw happening why did they not attempt
• to intervene? Why did they instead voluntarily provide quantities of morphine
• and versed from the LifeCare pharmacy if they were really observing acts of
•  wrong doing? 

Perhaps Sheri Fink has reasons for why she failed to ask these and other important questions that would in earnest have produced something new about the events at Memorial instead of a sensationalized rehash of a tragedy most Americans already know all about.  Until her book on this sad episode comes out, it seems we may never know.