Surviving the Storm »»»Published: April 01, 2009

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  • Ochsner Medical Center was the only hospital in New Orleans able to accept new patients after Katrina. We show you why.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting has finished a one hour documentary on how the Ochsner Medical Center on Jefferson Highway in New Orleans survived Hurricane Katrina. Ochsner was the only hospital in New Orleans capable of accepting new patients for several days following the hurricane. The primary mission of other hospitals was to evacuate patients. That’s after high winds and rising water knocked out electricity, generators and the public water supply. This caused toilets to stop flushing, lights to go out and life-support systems to shut down. Some hospitals didn’t even have enough food to last for any period of time. East and West Jefferson Hospitals reopened within a matter of days. Other hospitals took weeks to reopen. Some, including the huge charity hospital have not reopened at all. The documentary, Surviving the Storm shows why Ochsner was able to keep operating. You see what lessons Ochsner had learned from other hospitals impaired by Mother Nature’s wrath. The program also focuses on the lessons other hospitals can learn from Ochsner and Hurricane Katrina, the worst disaster in recent American History.

The documentary shows how Ochsner made sure it would have sufficient staffing to last for a prolonged period of time. We’ll see how the hospital responded to concerns over its food supply, feminine hygiene products for the large number of females in the hospital (both staffers and patients), printing pay checks for staffers amid the power shortage, providing dialysis for diabetics and other patients, keeping the blood supply and other lab supplies safe and sterile and caring for a large number of sick and dying people on the interstate near the hospital. A vast majority of Ochsner’s staff had homes that were lost or heavily damaged. Yet the staff rallied. We’ll hear and see the attitudes, the spirit that kept employees going when they didn’t know whether their loved ones were dead or alive.

We hear from a physician who set up shop in a French Quarter bar to make sure that New Orleans police officers received the medical attention they needed. The same physician made his way to the Convention Center where he was surrounded by thousands of desperate people, many of whom needed medical attention. He shares the heart-felt emotions he endured as he tried to provide comfort and some degree of medical treatment. We hear from one of the first doctors to get to Interstate 10 to help the sick and dying there. We tell you who he felt did the most to bail out the suffering residents of New Orleans. You may be surprised by who he feels the people of our state should be grateful to. This same doctor treaded through high water to go to the relief of people stranded for days in an apartment complex. We get both the doctor’s reaction and reaction to the people who were stranded. What is perhaps more shocking is the reason the doctor had to wait for six hours to leave what had become a tiny island.

Patients and relatives share their fears amid all of the uncertainty. Among the patients; one of the men needed desperately to help pump the water out of New Orleans. He tells you how far his employers were willing to go to make sure he got the medical treatment he needed to be back on the job within a matter of hours.

The producer of this program, Dorothy Kendrick says, “Beyond everything else, this program should serve as an example of why hospitals need to look at everything that could potentially go wrong during a disaster, plan for all of the possibilities, or get their patients out of harms way. At the same time, medical services are essential in any community, even amid evacuation orders. There will no doubt be health conditions associated with any catastrophe. Even if people manage to stay safe during the catastrophe, relief workers will definitely need treatment. We all need to remember statistics show half of all Americans are taking medication for some reason, whether it’s depression, diabetes, heart disease or whatever. Chances are health conditions will be made worse by the stress of a disaster. If the hospitals can’t stay open, certainly, clinics will have to remain open."

"No one knows when he or she will end up in a hospital. Most of our hospitals are always filled to capacity. If it is not you in one of those hospital beds, it could well be a loved one.”

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