Book Prize Recipient, 2014

Sheri Fink, author of Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, is the recipient of the 2014 Ridenhour Book Prize. In this book, reconstructing the events at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, Fink draws upon more than five hundred interviews to bring the reader into the lives of the doctors and nurses who struggled to preserve life amidst chaos.

In discussing its decision, the awards committee said, “Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding when the federal levee system failed triggered catastrophes all over New Orleans. One of the many was at Memorial Medical Center, where the electricity had failed and the hospital complex was surrounded by floodwater. Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial shows how a valiant crew of doctors and nurses confronted a host of medical and ethical issues while trying to treat desperately ill patients under the worst possible conditions. There are no easy answers, and Fink doesn’t provide them. Instead, she shows what these health-care practitioners faced and tells what they were thinking, and she makes readers wonder what they would have — could have — done under similar circumstances. This is a harrowing addition to the growing canon of Katrina literature, and it is one of the best.”

Five Days at Memorial paints a vivid picture of ill patients first left vulnerable to an ad-hoc evacuation plan, and then to a cascade of decisions made by exhausted doctors and nurses about whose lives could be preserved and who would most likely die in the face of serious illness and limited medical care. The consequence was an almost unthinkable tragedy: Several health professionals injected patients with morphine and the fast-acting sedative Versed. At least twenty patients died after being injected.

Upon hearing that she had been awarded the prize, Fink said, “Ron Ridenhour knew about secrets in New Orleans — he spent a year investigating a tax scandal there, reporting that won a George Polk Award. Here the subject is different, but the questions are similar: To what degree do entrusted institutions function in the public interest? How do individuals within them handle consequential decisions, and what implications do past events carry for our future? It’s a tremendous honor to accept the Ridenhour Book Prize for Five Days at Memorial.”