Friday, September 02, 2005

reports on hospital evacuations from

Below is an article from that gives information on hospital evacuations in New Orleans.

Charity evacuation begins

By Jan Moller
Staff Writer

BATON ROUGE - State and federal authorities on Thursday morning began evacuating about 350 patients from Charity and University hospitals in New Orleans who have been stuck for days in facilities lacking water and working plumbing and where severe shortages of fuel and medicine have put strains on their ability to provide basic care.

Don Smithburg, who heads Louisiana State University's Health Care Services Division, said the evacuation came nearly 2 1/2 days after hospital administrators first asked for an evacuation in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning when levee breaches sent floodwaters coursing through the city.

Once the 230 or so patients at Charity Hospital are evacuated, authorities will start transporting the 120 patients who remained at University Hospital, which is also part of LSU's statewide public hospital system.

Smithburg said the evacuation didn't begin until after a physician at the hospital was able to get on the Internet and request help directly from someone working at the Superdome.

"Very quickly helicopters began to fly over to our campus and the evacuation of Big Charity began,'' said Smithburg, who did not know the name of the doctor or the person who was contacted.

With helicopters on the way, hospital staffers faced another obstacle: getting patients to Tulane University Hospital's eighth-floor helicopter landing pad from Charity Hospital, which is located across the street and doesn't have a place for aircraft to land.

"These patients have to be moved from one building to another through a series of crosswalks, parking garages, up stairwells (and) ultimately up to a rooftop," Smithburg said.

Earlier this week, Charity hospital was able to get about 60 of its most critically ill patients evacuated to the Superdome for evaluation and referral to other hospitals. Health and Hospitals Secretary Fred Cerise said that because elevators were not working at charity, physicians had to carry their patients on stretchers down several flights of stairs before they could be loaded onto boats or military vehicles for the short but perilous trip through the floodwaters.

Smithburg said evacuations are also proceeding at other hospitals designated as "priority" because they lack the most rudimentary tools needed to provide care. Most of the patients at Lindy Boggs Medical Center and Touro Infirmary had been evacuated as of Thursday afternoon, and patients at Chalmette Medical Center had also been transported away even though some staff remained there. Memorial Medical Center was also being evacuated, Smithburg said.

The only exception was the New Orleans VA Medical Center on Perdido St., where evacuations had not begun.

Evacuees are being flown to a staging area at the Causeway Boulevard overpass for triage, then transported by helicopter or ambulance to hospitals around Louisiana or in other states depending on their condition.

Cerise said hospitals have faced nearly impossible odds in trying to help their existing patients and provide for those who became injured or ill in Katrina's wake. "They can't do labs, they can't do X-rays," he said.

Cerise, who was a physician and administrator at Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge before taking over the health department, went to New Orleans Monday afternoon as Katrina's winds were dying down and spent the next three days in a trailer at the Superdome, helping to separate the sick and injured from other evacuees and get them sent off to other facilities.

Back in Baton Rouge Thursday afternoon, Cerise choked up at times as he described acts of heroism large and small by doctors and rescue workers struggling to sustain life amid deteriorating conditions and an impossible demand for services. Nursing home residents, dialysis patients and hospital evacuees were coming into the Superdome faster than authorities could diagnose and evacuate them.

"The need obviously is just overwhelming," Cerise said. "As many people as we can move away we have people moving in."

He said conditions at hospitals were also intolerable. "I'm sure that people have died and will die because there's not enough resources to go get everybody," he said.

Smithburg said he did not know why it took so long to start the evacuations, and why a doctor working under primitive conditions was able to achieve the kind of rapid response that LSU administrators working from the Office of Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge were not. "I want to know the answer to that myself," Smithburg said.

Mike Brown, who is coordinating federal relief efforts for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the problem with evacuating hospitals is that it takes time to get patients ready for transport. "The response that is occurring is actually a quite efficient and quick response at this time," he said.

Smithburg denied reports in some media that the hospitals have been victimized by looting and rioting that has erupted in other parts of the flood-ravaged city. "We're a very large institution and we have our own armed security guards. They are providing security within the walls of our facility," Smithburg said.

The last patient who leaves Charity Hospital may become a small part of history, as there are doubts whether the aging building on Tulane Avenue will be rebuilt following the damage done to it by Katrina's wrath.

"It may be the last time that we use that facility," Smithburg said.