Medical center in N.O. makes own evacuation allies
By Richard A. Webster
New Orleans CityBusiness (New Orleans, LA)
Copyright 2006 Dolan Media Newswires
The day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham and Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston received calls from Ochsner Medical Center requesting assistance in evacuating intensive care babies and critical care patients. Memorial Hermann sent a fixed-wing airplane, helicopters and ground transport to Baton Rouge while UAB sent a Cessna Citation Bravo jet to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. The private helicopters and ambulances ferried patients out of Ochsner to Houston and Birmingham. The two hospitals evacuated approximately 30 patients.
Despite state and federal plans to evacuate hospitals, Ochsner will rely on the relationships it developed with regional hospitals during Katrina should the need to evacuate critical care patients rise again.
"If facilities have the resources to do things on their own, I'm not sure we should be relying on the government to do it for us," said Avery Corenswet, vice president of Ochsner's New Orleans operations. "Certainly, if we had to evacuate our entire building, we couldn't do that on our own. We're not trying to say we don't want to participate with the state. We just figure if we've made those kinds of connections we'd rather go ahead with those plans. If we have to rely on the state at some other point we can but it wouldn't be our first choice."
"There are communication issues when you deal with the federal government," Flanagan said. "During Katrina all of these ambulances just started showing up at our hospital and we had no idea they were coming. The government pulled ambulances in from all over the country and the poor drivers didn't know Houston or the hospitals or where they were going."
State and federal governments have systems to immediately identify open hospital beds throughout the region. Transportation is provided to evacuate patients before and after a hurricane. The National Disaster Medical System moved approximately 1,800 patients out of the city during Katrina. The communication gap with the federal government at the start of the Katrina evacuation was eventually resolved, Flanagan said. "When something massive like Katrina happens, that's when the federal government needs to come in because they have a much broader infrastructure," he said.
Les Hirsch, president and CEO of Touro Infirmary, said they were forced to evacuate without the help of the government. Touro reached out to regional hospitals to coordinate transportation. But should another major hurricane threaten the city, Touro will work within the state and federal systems. "We're participating in that process and that's where we'd expect to coordinate an evacuation," he said.
Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, Ochsner medical director for clinical practice improvement, said hospital policy is not to evacuate unless something cataclysmic occurs. But if a major storm threatens the Gulf Coast, it would evaluate the needs of its critical care patients. If it would be safer to move them out of the city, Ochsner will do so independently of the state and federal government.