Sunday, August 29, 2010

Remembering Katrina's Nightmare

Before Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, I worried for caregivers and patients in harm's way. I helped evacuate a Texas Gulf Coast hospital before Hurricane Gilbert, a record storm predicted to strike our community. Four days before projected landfall, I had great difficulty getting inland administrators to accept a few of our 100 or so patients. For this reason I knew New Orleans, with nearly 5,000 licensed hospital beds, could not evacuate all the acutely ill.

Five years ago I noted New Orleans filling with toxic gumbo. This caused me great concern. As a hospital administrator in Roanoke, Virginia in the 1980's, I endured in a river flooded 700 bed teaching hospital. As half the electrical switching equipment was in the basement, the hospital had no power. I know how life giving facilities quickly become death traps without electricity, water or sewage.

America's failed response to New Orleans doctors, nurses and patients enduring in dead facilities caused needless suffering and death. The line of responsible parties is long, George W. Bush, Michael Chertoff, Michael Brown, Donald Rumsfeld, Frances Townsend, Andy Card, Condi Rice, Joe Hagin and many more.

They eventually responded, evacuating those not moved out by privately hired helicopters. Patients were completely evacuated six days after landfall. Yet, Katrina raised red flags regarding evacuation responsibility and triage methods. The White House Lessons Learned report failed to address these concerns.

Frances Townsend's report omitted any mention of Memorial Medical Center, the hospital with the highest patient death toll. Thirty five people perished in Memorial's hellish halls. Twenty five died in the LifeCare unit, which rented a floor in the Tenet Healthcare owned facility. Relatives await justice.

This national nightmare has been addressed in plans. Yet, America had plans in 2005. They'd been rehearsed the prior year on fictional Hurricane Pam. The BP oil spew adds complexity to any major Gulf Coast hurricane strike. May America do better next time.

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