New Orleans’ Hospitals Launched Evacuation, Emergency Measures

Hospitals in the New Orleans area over the weekend took steps to evacuate patients with high-risk conditions as Hurricane Gustav approached the city, “underscoring the effort by local health officials to avoid the missteps that occurred during Hurricane Katrina three years ago, when some critically sick people were left virtually abandoned in flooded, powerless medical facilities and nursing homes,” the Washington Post reports. Patients — particularly seniors and newborns in intensive care units — were evacuated to airports for transfer to hospitals farther east in the state and hospitals in neighboring states.

By Sunday, at least 110 patients had been transferred from Tulane Medical Center and a total of 500 physicians and patients were expected to remain at the hospital, CEO Robert Lynch said. Michael Butler, CEO of the Louisiana State University Health Care Services, which manages seven hospitals in the southern region of the state, said at least 120 patients, including pregnant women and infants, were transferred to hospitals farther north during a 48-hour evacuation procedure. Cathi Fontenot, interim CEO of University Hospital, said that 49 of the hospital’s patients were transferred to other facilities, while about 79 stayed. About 486 employees, including 83 physicians, were expected to remain at the hospital to support urgent needs after the storm, and the hospital’s trauma care center remained open during the storm (Montgomery/Rucker, Washington Post, 9/1). However, Fontenot said the hospital cancelled all elective surgeries (Sternberg/Brophy Marcus, USA Today, 8/29).

According to the Post, hospitals in the city “were trying out new systems put in place to keep out the water, keep the lights on and keep family members in touch with loved ones being dispatched hundreds of miles away” (Washington Post, 9/1).

NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Saturday examined whether evacuation procedures in nursing homes in the Louisiana improved after Hurricane Katrina (Shapiro, “All Things Considered,” NPR, 8/30).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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