Kohl to propose SNF emergency-plan bill; prosecution rests in Katrina trial

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Nearly three-fourths of those who died during Hurricane Katrina were over the age of 60, a statistic that should compel passage of legislation that requires formal emergency preparedness plans for the elderly, says Senate Aging Committee Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI).

"Most urgently, I believe we must strengthen the federal standards for nursing home emergency plans, and this fall I intend to introduce a bill to do so," he said Wednesday, the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Kohl said he is also confident that provisions attached to the recently passed 9/11 bill will help add teeth to state and local evacuation plans, and requirements to include specific procedures to inform the elderly before and during an evacuation.

Also Wednesday, the prosecution rested in the Louisiana trial of a pair of nursing home owners charged with negligent homicide. Jurors heard emotional testimony from a firefighter who sought to recover the body of his father from St. Rita's nursing home, where 35 residents who were not evacuated drowned. The firefighter, the last of 40 prosecution witnesses, said he saw an unsympathetic co-owner, Sal Mangano, in a motorboat near the facility as he tried to recover his father's body: "He told me there were bodies floating all over St. Bernard. He showed no remorse to me whatsoever."

The defense, which was scheduled to begin its case today, notched one victory over prosecutors. After Gov. Kathleen Blanco testified she was unfamiliar with the government's $200 billion lawsuit blaming post-Katrina destruction on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, defense attorneys threatened to put State Attorney Charles Foti on the witness stand to get the lawsuit acknowledged in the official record.

Prosecutors eventually agreed to allow the suit to be entered into evidence to keep Foti off the witness stand. Defense attorneys plan to blame various government agencies and individuals for the deadly flooding at St. Rita's. They believe pointing out that prosecutors are attempting to do the same thing in another case would be helpful to the Manganos' defense.

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