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New Orleans hospitals better prepared for hurricane than three years ago

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1546 (Published 03 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1546
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. 1Florida

    Three critical care patients died while being evacuated from hospitals in New Orleans ahead of hurricane Gustav this week, but general hospitals in the city were better prepared to deal with the oncoming storm than when hurricane Katrina struck almost exactly three years ago.

    Nearly two million people from Texas to Alabama fled the Gulf Coast ahead of hurricane Gustav, heeding the warning of Ray Nagin, New Orleans mayor, that “This is still a big ugly storm . . . I strongly urge everyone to leave.” 

    Hospitals in New Orleans activated their disaster plans in an attempt to avoid repeating what happened three years ago, when at least 140 patients died in hospitals and nursing homes after hurricane Katrina made landfall on 29 August 2005.

    Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, said that three critical care patients died during the latest evacuation of hospitals. The deaths occurred while more than 8000 nursing home residents and patients from 27 hospitals were being transferred to medical facilities in other cities.

    One at-risk facility is University Hospital, the interim home for Charity Hospital, which was closed in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The hospital’s electrical switchboard is located in the basement, and the building is situated in a bowl-like depression that floods even during severe rain.

    Kathy Fontanot, the hospital’s chief executive, said that ambulances may have a problem accessing the hospital, although helicopters could land on the roof if wind conditions permit.

    Since hurricane Katrina, the hospital has installed a backup generator and several portable generators in case of a power outage. University Hospital has also cancelled all elective surgery and stocked up on the diesel fuel needed to run its generators, and it plans to evacuate dialysis patients, infants in the newborn intensive care unit, and patients in the 38 bed psychiatric unit. The rest of the hospital’s 140 patients will remain in their beds and the trauma centre will remain open.

    Ochsner Medical Center has stockpiled fuel, food, and supplies and can draw water from multiple wells, said Joe Guarisco, head of Ochsner’s emergency services. Two medical teams have been designated for every service in the hospital, one to ride out the storm and a second to remain on call at home.

    At Tulane Medical Center, generators have been protected from flooding and additional generators installed in the parking garage. The hospital evacuated 1600 people during hurricane Katrina, but this time evacuation began before the storm arrived.

    Tulane has prearranged buses and aircraft to evacuate patients if necessary. Dr Robert Finch, the hospital’s chief executive officer, said, “We have much better capabilities to sustain the hospital. We are relying on a group of our folks committed to staying in the hospital, and working in shifts during the storm.”

    Fresenius Medical Care North America, which provides outpatient dialysis to patients on the Gulf Coast, had 7000 patients who could be affected by Katrina. The clinic has provided a disaster hotline to let patients know where to find dialysis clinics in the areas they evacuate to, said spokeswoman Nicole Gustin.

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 208;337:a1546

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