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St. Rita's Owners found not guilty in Katrina Nursing home deaths
September 7, 2007 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Salvador and Mabel Mangano, the owners of St. Rita’s nursing home in St. Bernard Parish, where 35 patients drowned in Hurricane Katrina’s flood waters, were found not guilty of negligent homicide and cruelty to the infirm charges tonight by a six-member jury. Read their story and decide for yourself if they're guilty.
posted by ColdChef (34 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Mr. Cobb, how are you doing?" I asked James Cobb, a lawyer in New Orleans, Louisiana.

"It depends on what you mean," Mr. Cobb answered. "If you mean how am I doing after losing my house and every fucking thing in it, and after being forced to live in a two-bedroom shithole with my wife and two kids and being told how lucky I am to get it, and after being fucked -- and I mean absolutely fucked -- by my insurance company and by the United States government (and by the way, just so you know, if anybody from New Orleans, Louisiana, tells you that they're not getting fucked by their insurance company and by the United States government, they're fucking lying, all right?) . . . if you mean, how am I doing after all that is factored in: Well, I guess the answer is that I'm doing fine. Now, how can I help you?"

posted by ColdChef at 6:15 PM on September 7, 2007 [5 favorites]


good post. I think the jury was right, not guilty is the only way to go.
posted by HappyHippo at 6:42 PM on September 7, 2007


The saddest part of the whole mess is that, in another twenty years, nobody but historians will even remember Katrina and this tragedy.

This shame should be branded on our collective consciousness, but .... nobody much seems to actually care. Every piece of the puzzle, every level of government, has failed completely, and nobody cares.

It's like of like Gene Kranz from Apollo 13, except in reverse. Instead of "Not on my watch!", we have "It's not my problem." The Federal government is paralyzed by the unwillingness to offer more than token help; the local government is paralyzed by graft and corruption. The last thing on any of these bureaucrats' minds is the actual people they're supposed to be protecting and defending.

Within 5 years, I predict that this will just pass out of the national consciousness entirely. A failure this staggering, this profound, is too awkward to deal with.

It's my belief that Katrina and New Orleans will be viewed by historians as the moment the American Empire began to actually collapse; when it could no longer be bothered to summon enough competence to do anything about a city that drowned.

It happened on our watch, people. It happened on our watch.
posted by Malor at 6:54 PM on September 7, 2007 [9 favorites]


People forget things that don't affect them directly. Their car breaking down is much worse than Katrina, which was just a story on TV.
posted by smackfu at 6:57 PM on September 7, 2007


Sigh. "It's kind of like...".
posted by Malor at 6:59 PM on September 7, 2007


Oh, and.... I'm glad it was Not Guilty, too.
posted by Malor at 7:01 PM on September 7, 2007


Within 5 years, I predict that this will just pass out of the national consciousness entirely. A failure this staggering, this profound, is too awkward to deal with.
It's my belief that Katrina and New Orleans will be viewed by historians as the moment the American Empire began to actually collapse; when it could no longer be bothered to summon enough competence to do anything about a city that drowned.

Yup--tragically--and in 20 years 9/11 will be a national holiday, i bet.

They're definitely shitty people--all nursing home owners are, i've found. And they're guilty of not helping those who were totally dependent on them and solely in their care. Does that make it murder tho? Or homicide? I dunno. There are so many tragedies connected with Katrina--ongoing still--didn't the hospital reverse triage thing go to court recently too?
posted by amberglow at 7:12 PM on September 7, 2007


People forget things that don't affect them directly. Their car breaking down is much worse than Katrina, which was just a story on TV.

Say that again on September 11 and see how many arguments you get.
posted by briank at 7:17 PM on September 7, 2007


Someone at Esquire is already forgetting the details:

"It's been a year since Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans."
posted by user92371 at 7:20 PM on September 7, 2007




"... because the same thing that killed thirty-five people at St. Rita's killed more than fifteen hundred people in the New Orleans area. "And guess what?" Cobb says. "It wasn't Sal and Mabel. It was a flood caused by the negligence of the Army Corps of Engineers and the levee boards. And so if Foti is going to charge someone, why not charge the motherfuckers who killed fifteen hundred people?"

Great post Cold Chef, Thanks
posted by haikuku at 7:21 PM on September 7, 2007


I'm still sick and hurt and mad as hell about this, and if I'm alive in 20 years, I still will be then. I spent all day Tuesday and Wednesday after the storm gathering tuna, bottled water, peanut butter and cash to buy more of the same from my friends and neighbors. I took an incredibly full Pathfinder full of stuff Thursday morning to the Austin Area Foodbank, where they were loading up semis to truck it to New Orleans. This was about the time that most of our government was finding out that a hurricane had hit, and I think the day that Condi went shoe-shopping and Drownie was complaining about restaurants via email. I was pissed as hell, but doing something, so I felt useful, but later after I heard about how hard it was for the Red Cross and other NGO's to even truck aid IN to New Orleans, I began to despair that even my tiny actions had done a bit of good. People in the next state over were starving becuase the food I'd sent them was sidelined in Baton Rouge, or somewhere.

I've been working all week with a permenant evacuee, and spent a while this morning listening to him telling me with an increasingly despondent voice, how they managed to drive out early Sunday morning, leaving behind friends and family, and how he didn't think he'd ever be able to go back home again. He's making the best of it here, and seemed grateful really, but I can tell something inside was broken. Lather, rinse, repeat 400,000 times.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:24 PM on September 7, 2007 [4 favorites]


"It's been a year since Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans."

Oh, my.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:27 PM on September 7, 2007


Someone at Esquire wrote the story in 2006. The August 2007 date on the website is wrong. I remember reading it in the printed version, and I always have at least a few months' of Esquire around here, and it's not in them.

That 2007 date must be when they put the old story up on their website.
posted by mendel at 7:44 PM on September 7, 2007


Someone at Esquire wrote the story in 2006

Yeah, clearly - I mean, the opening page of the article mentions that the case is GOING to trial, and the first link in this post is the verdict of that trial. When the article was written, it had most likely been one year since Katrina.
posted by jonson at 7:49 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


More background here:

He said the Manganos stocked up with a two-week supply of fuel, water, food and medicine, as well as making other preparations, such as buying a washing machine because the home’s large commercial washers couldn’t be run on a generator. About 10 residents were evacuated by relatives as the storm approached, leaving 59 residents at the nursing home.

After the hurricane passed, Sal and Mabel Mangano began preparing the home’s traditional Monday lunch of red beans and rice as their adult grandson, Tanner Mangano, stepped outside under clear skies to assess the damage.

He has said he heard a noise that sounded like a freight train. Then he saw a wall of water 6 feet high rushing across the highway with dogs and pigs scrambling to get out of the way.

A couple of the men swam to nearby houses to get boats. When they returned minutes later, people were already clinging to the nursing home’s gutters as the water quickly rose to within inches of the ceiling.

The death toll at St. Rita’s likely would have been higher if not for one fortuitous fact: Because the residents’ mattresses were wrapped in plastic liners, they floated.

The extended Mangano family and staff members used the mattresses as makeshift lifeboats, ferrying residents out through broken windows and onto the roof. From there, they were taken by boats to the second floor of the nearby Beauregard Middle School and eventually to a makeshift shelter at the Chalmette port, along with more than 8,000 other parish residents rescued from the floodwaters.

The Manganos and their employees managed to save two dozen residents…



The Esquire article is based on an interview that was done over a year ago and the court issued a gag order shortly after the original story was published, hence the discrepancy in the date. Cobb is quite the character.

The whole situation is tragic. The fact that the home rode the storm out and only flooded after the levees broke underscores a fact that so many fail to grasp: New Orleans weathered Katrina without major incident, only to fall victim to poorly designed levees. If the levees and flood walls had held, the impact on the area would have been minimal. Remember, it was the Mississippi Gulf Coast that took the brunt of the storm. . .
posted by ajr at 7:49 PM on September 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


They're definitely shitty people--all nursing home owners are

You're an idiot if you actually think this. I have no doubt that some, probably a significant plurality, possibly even a majority of nursing home owners are bad people. But to say that all of them are is the height of hysterical hyperbole.

My only extensive experience with a nursing home was the one that my grandfather lived in during the last years of his life. As he grew increasingly ill and infirm, and ultimately died, I never had anything but a postive experience with the wonderful caring people who staffed and managed the place.

That may well have been the "exception that proves the rule," but to say that all nursing home owners are shitty people is, frankly, fucking stupid.
posted by dersins at 10:54 PM on September 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


Nope, all nursing home owners and everyone who works in nursing homes are shitty. The only way not to be shitty is to never care for or do anything positive for someone who is in long term medical distress, and if you do you can't take any money for it.

I don't think so.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:18 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


The couple were the only people in Louisiana to face criminal charges stemming directly from Hurricane Katrina, and jurors said that played a key role in their decision.

“We talked about that,” said juror Kim Maxwell, 46. “There were a lot of mistakes made, and it should have been a lot of people answering for it. So why just these two people?”

Said juror Michael Cavalier, 39: “The state was responsible for the safety of nursing home residents. They didn’t do what they should have. They didn’t make the decisions they should have. So when the Manganos made their decision, why should they try to crucify them for it? That isn’t right.”


So the verdict would have been different Bush, Brownie, etc were held accountable for their stupidity? This verdict sounds like it came out of more of hatred of bush and incompetence from the top than actually looking at the facts of the case. Two people answering for mistakes is better than no one.
posted by null terminated at 12:39 AM on September 8, 2007


Great post. Great story. There are a zillion things Americans do badly, but this type of long form feature article, I believe they do better than anybody else in the world. (Probably because your circulation size means your magazines can pay people sufficiently well to do the reporting, but I digress.)

If I'm ever in a legal battle with somebody, I want a guy like Cobb in my corner.

And they're guilty of not helping those who were totally dependent on them and solely in their care.

Unlike the families, who simply abandon them and pay some other poor fucker to take care of them? Your definition of 'not helping' isn't one that I'm familiar with.

In retrospect, it appears that they made a poor decision. Had they made the decision to not to evacuate saving maybe half a dozen from dying in the process, and the levy had held, they'd have looked like geniuses. As it was, they made a tough decision under difficult circumstances and it all went to shit. It's a tragedy, but it hardly counts as not helping.

But if you don't like it, you've always got the option to give up your jobs and take care of your own relatives. You know, take a little personal responsibility in these matters, God forbid.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:33 AM on September 8, 2007


Say that again on September 11 and see how many arguments you get.

I suspect that you're right, but that's less because of the numbers of deaths involved -- the deaths were far greater at Katrina, obviously -- but because of the symbolic nature of 9/11. 9/11 was an assault on the idea of American invulnerability. An assault on the idea that no foreign power could ever strike at you significantly on your own soil without massive retaliatory action. An idea that you're all safe in your beds from the boogie man.

The difference in responses to Katrina and 9/11 are hugely illustrative of the American psyche, IMO. Where poor people really don't matter a shit, unless there happens to be some political advantage in it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:41 AM on September 8, 2007


Whoa. Wait. What?!?

These people were found NOT GUILTY?!?

Awesome! They actually weren't guilty (if the statements they made for the article we're basing our judgments on are even remotely honest, anyway), and I'm glad they aren't going to be the sacrificial lambs on this one.

They did the right thing. The local, state, and Federal government entities responsible for making the levees functional did -NOT- do anything even vaguely like the right thing.

At most, these people are guilty of believing the bullshit that was handed to them by people entrusted with the responsibility of grabbing substantial percentages of everyone's paychecks and (allegedly) using those dollars to maintain, upgrade, and defend our nation.

The Manganos were lied to and they didn't know it, and they believed the BS they were handed by people who profit off of the labor of others.


In a just world, the entire staff of FEMA and every ACOE officer who ever squelched a bad report on the New Orleans levees would be in prison.
posted by mountain_william at 2:07 AM on September 8, 2007


Nope, all nursing home owners and everyone who works in nursing homes are shitty. The only way not to be shitty is to never care for or do anything positive for someone who is in long term medical distress, and if you do you can't take any money for it.

Most people in nursing homes are not at all in any long term medical distress. They are warehouses for old human beings whose families don't want to bother for the largest part--especially places like that one which were not medically equipped but simply had minimum wage rotating staff not specifically trained looking after other people's parents or in treating alzheimers or other related things that affect old people.

They are always in the news for being run badly and for neglecting their patients. They are prisonlike in their respect for the rights and freedoms of people living there. We see "cute" news stories about the cats who live there who are harbingers of death--it's all shit--and horrendous. We should not do this to other humans just because they're old or require a little attention and care at the end of their lives. Anyone who would run one of these facilities is very wealthy--and if you look, does not provide even a decent environment--let alone a quality one, no matter how much it costs. They are wealthy because of the guilt of adult children and by the rampant and extensive gaming of the medicaid/medicare system by adult children putting all assets that were in the old person's name out of their name so they'd qualify for govt. aid.
posted by amberglow at 12:06 PM on September 8, 2007


the majority of non-elderly disabled in nursing homes want out too.

Elder care shifting away from nursing homes--... But a shift away from institutionalized care is growing. The percentage of people over 75 in nursing homes fell from 9.6% in 1985 to 6.4% in 2004, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Elder care experts say the decline reflects the growth of less-restrictive types of care, ranging from assisted living to supervised adult day care. These alternatives are usually less expensive than nursing homes and often provide a superior quality of life....

posted by amberglow at 12:13 PM on September 8, 2007


and from there: ... The average annual cost for a semiprivate room in a nursing home is nearly $67,000, reports the MetLife Mature Market Institute reports. In parts of the country, it's much higher. Still, if a senior citizen exhausts all her assets, Medicaid will cover her nursing-home care.

Not so with other types of long-term care. Except in isolated instances, Medicaid doesn't cover assisted living or home-based health care. That means families often have to pay those costs. The average cost for an assisted-living facility was $35,616 a year in 2006, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute. The average cost for a home health aide is $19 an hour. ...

posted by amberglow at 12:16 PM on September 8, 2007


Just to clear up a popular misconception, St. Rita's is located far down in St. Bernard Parish a couple miles distant from P.G.T. Beauregard school to which the survivors evacuated. The area would have flooded with or without the much broadcast breach in the levee that washed away the homes in the Lower Ninth ward and flooded some of northern St. Bernard Parish. In this animation see scenes 3 and 9 which show the completely compromised MRGO levee and the completely overtopped Arpent Canal levee.
posted by vapidave at 3:28 PM on September 8, 2007


Amberglow, I was just upset by the hyperbole of your 7:12 PM yesterday post. I'd actually agree with a statement like "most nursing home owner's are shitty", but all goes a bit too far, and insults the few good people in the industry.

I had a girlfriend who worked as a CNA in both nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and she told me a lot of horror stories about elder abuse and neglect by staff, administration, and family members. She also told me a lot of heartwarming stories about people who care for and advocate for the elderly including the owners and directors of several small and large facilities.

I hope their will be a shift from nursing homes to home care, assisted living, and hospice care, as I think even well run nursing homes are a bad idea for all but a narrow slice of individuals. However, long term medical care, and public funding of such is an intrinsically difficult social problem. Trying to find a single class of villains to blame for it seems to me to be counterproductive. I think there is plenty of blame to go around, from affluent people so scared of their impending frailty that they refuse to buy long term care insurance or otherwise consider their future, to family that ignore or mistreat their "loved' ones and/or actively steal their assets, to staff that is sometimes abusive, ill-trained, and thieving, and a medical system that still focuses more on last minute procedures and miracle treatments than on ongoing wellness, and preventive care. Nursing home "owners" (23% non-profit, 7% Gov't funded) are certainly responsible for a share of the mess. Oh, and I forgot pig in a poke long term health insurance scams, and byzantine life/investment/long term health instruments that underperform on all fronts.

I think all our energies are best directed at helping to educate the elderly and disabled and advocate for them. However, my personal experience is that very few people want to confront these issues until it's too late to plan ahead. Damn, now I'm all depressed.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:30 PM on September 8, 2007


The very fact that only nursing homes are covered by medicaid/medicare and not any other options--and the active very wealthy lobby ensuring it remains that way--means that owners (who as you yourself state are by far majority private and for-profit--70%, no?) are profiting off this setup and will fight any change tooth and nail, with the help of the federal govt--especially the GOP who believes only in private solutions. Owners are not workers or directors at the homes they own, and they are not doing good, even if the odd one out is a nice, caring person. It's a corrupt system entirely. We make new nursing home millionaires all the time, and they're being paid with our tax money too.
posted by amberglow at 7:42 PM on September 8, 2007


I suspect that you're right, but that's less because of the numbers of deaths involved -- the deaths were far greater at Katrina, obviously -- but because of the symbolic nature of 9/11. 9/11 was an assault on the idea of American invulnerability.

Wikipedia lists 1,723 deaths due to Katrina and 2,974 due to the events of Sept. 11. Of course, Katrina had a direct effect on a much larger number of people who lost their homes and/or livelihoods.
posted by enn at 12:53 AM on September 9, 2007


Actually some directors are owners or co-owners. I don't know that that makes them any better necessarily, and not only do I agree with most of your points, but I also don't want to be stuck defending the class as a whole.

How do we change the system for the better without incurring the lobbying efforts of a bunch of taxpayer advocacy groups who probably sit around all day thinking of ways that elderly people could be gaming the system? How do we get people to care about the elderly, especially when people tend not to even care about their own medical future?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:46 PM on September 9, 2007


We either put all elder care options under Medicaid too, or we take nursing homes off--that's the first step. Stop the gravy train and asset games first. Universal healthcare is second (or maybe first). Then everyone old and young doesn't have to worry about that part of getting old.
posted by amberglow at 8:02 PM on September 9, 2007


With an aging and enormous boomer pop, and many millions of seniors alive now living decades more than they thought they would, those millions already care--or should be.
posted by amberglow at 8:04 PM on September 9, 2007


Should care yes, but I often talk to people who want to avoid even thinking about the issue, and who assume they'll just up and die (or suicide) when the time comes without lingering issues.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:11 AM on September 10, 2007


That's what Living Wills and Powers of Attorney are for, Brother, too--my whole family has them, and we all made it clear to each other that we wouldn't put anyone into a home.
posted by amberglow at 6:51 AM on September 11, 2007


NYT today--big story on privately-owned homes: More Profit and Less Nursing at Many Homes
posted by amberglow at 1:43 PM on September 23, 2007


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