Tuesday, February 14, 2006
'You are taking your life in your hands'
I don't think I have ever seen as many people in lab coats squeezed into such a small area. At Tulane University Hospital in downtown New Orleans, this crowding was cause for celebration.

One of nine New Orleans-area hospitals forced to close in the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, Tulane reopened its emergency room and 63 hospital beds today. Any health care improvement in this city ahead of Mardi Gras is big news.

Emergency care spikes about 30 percent each year during the big party, according to doctors in the city. They tell me they typically see lots of cuts and bruises and some more serious injuries resulting from alcohol and fights during Mardi Gras.

Despite the festive atmosphere at Tulane, one finds a very different scene at the New Orleans Convention Center and its makeshift medical center. No celebrating here.

Dr. Peter DeBlieux directs the emergency room, which is made up of six or so military surplus tents. Don't laugh. Doctors treat about 5,000 patients each month in this space, many of them uninsured poor. It's been going on nearly five months.

DeBlieux says doctors are doing an amazing job with what they have, but he says they need more resources. "You are taking your life in your hands," he told me. At one point, my producer, Silvio Carrillo, who speaks Spanish, had to translate for a doctor who couldn't understand his Honduran patient.

Asked why more the city's health care system isn't in better shape, DeBlieux says local, state and federal leaders have yet to agree on a plan. His conclusion: "Pathetic."
Posted By Sean Callebs, CNN Correspondent: 8:06 PM ET
  26 Comments
Agree on a plan?!? They have got to be kidding. Didnt they learn anything from the catastrophy from Katrina, noone could agree on anything then. People have died!!!! Nothing is being completed here except finger pointing and obviously pocket filling cause no monies have made any difference here! Where is the money, where is the care for human life, where is the concern for what happens next?!?!? "Pathetic" is not the only word comes to mind for this misguided, mismanaged, beaurocratic crock of MESS!?!?! thats going on in the gulf coast.
Posted By Anonymous Julie,Erwin,TN : 8:35 PM ET
Dear Sean:

Please answer me? Is "New Orleans" in the United States????????

Unbelievable!!
Posted By Anonymous Vicki, Long Island, NY : 8:40 PM ET
Gee- Local, state and federal leaders unable to agree on a plan. What a shock (ha ha). Totally pathetic.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer, Durham, NC : 9:04 PM ET
What about the infrastructure overall? This can't be a healthy enviroment for raising children. What about the NEXT huricane season. How can they expect to have people live in New Orleans under the current conditions. It is much worse than anyone has shown on the tube.
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Los Angeles, CA : 9:28 PM ET
I am a resident of New Orleans. I am in good health. But if my wife or I get seriously ill or injured, we would not head to the makeshift "emergency" rooms in our area. We would head directly to the airport to visit family in Kansas City or Boston. I know the hospitals there are not only properly funded, but also sanitary. Health care in Louisiana was a joke before Katrina. Now it is frightening. TENTS?
Posted By Anonymous Derek, New Orleans, LA : 10:02 PM ET
HOLY-BLEEPIN'-COW!!!

Is there any way we HAVEN'T failed these people?

At all?

We Americans have nothing to be proud of here. It's appalling.
Posted By Anonymous Marisol, Aurora Colorado : 10:16 PM ET
It would seem more important to revamp the devastated neighborhoods intstead of boasting about the reoccurance of Mardi Gras and the impact that a party has on their economy. I would expect the government to be subcontracting low income housing intstead of refurbishing business districts.
Posted By Anonymous Ryan Kerr, Columbia, Missouri : 10:18 PM ET
I want to know if I should be worried. I'm heading down to the New Orleans area next month to volunteer my spring break towards rebuilding and rejuvenating the city. But hearing that, after 5 months, we haven't done enough to help is really discouraging.
Posted By Anonymous Kristen, Storrs, CT : 11:00 PM ET
To say it is pathetic that a plan is not in place for the medical industry is valid and justifiable... To label the entire rebuilding process and the people of this great city pathetic as some people do is pathetic on their part. There has been an incredible amount of progress done by New Orleanians and a solid rebuilding plan put in place. It�s truly amazing how people can formulate an opinion based on one industry in this city and label the entire rebuilding process on the same opinion. Unless you live here and understand everything that is going on you should be quiet... How�s that for southern hospitality�
Posted By Anonymous Louie Bonnecarre, New Orleans La. : 11:05 PM ET
What has not been talked about was the pathetic conditions of the New Orleans healthcare system pre-Katrina. The ER at Tulane was already overwhelmed with patients that lost their services right across the street at Charity Hospital. Several clinics there were closed in the last year due to State budget cuts that put the Tulane downtown healthcare system into overload.

We should not forget the problems the healthcare system had here prior to Katrina so as not to repeat the mistakes at all levels of government.
Posted By Anonymous Robert Carter, New Orleans, LA : 11:23 PM ET
It is not as bad as people think. "New Orleans" is actually a metroploitan area including an adjacent parish, Jefferson Parish. There are three major hospitals in Jefferson Parish, and all three have emergency rooms with excellant care. One such hospital, Ochsner Hospital is less than a mile from the Jefferson/Orleans Parish line. The other two are within 2 or 3 miles of the Orleans/Jefferson Parish line. Me, my wife, and my children have all received medical care since we returned to New Orleans. We are not a third-world country - we simply have elected officials who sometimes act like third-world leaders.
Posted By Anonymous Mark, New Orleans, LA : 11:26 PM ET
As the stories from the hurricane devastated Gulf Coast continue to air, I think I can't be shocked any more. I was wrong. A city that is hoping to have a large Mardi Gras turn-out doesn't even have adequate health care for those that are in residence now, much more thousands upon thousands of revelers. I find it disturbing that officials haven't done a better job with this--the health of the New Orleans population and its guests is more important than a party.
Posted By Anonymous Julia, Columbia Missouri : 11:57 PM ET
I think it is great that the make shift hospital is there. I don't think that the doctor who is in America, has to or should know Spanish or whatever language his patient speaks. They are in America. The burden is on them to assimilate and speak English. Those 1000 doctors and nurses that Castro, of Cuba offered would certainly have been able to respond in Spanish.
Posted By Anonymous Cheri Lockette Marina Del Rey, Ca : 2:01 AM ET
I can't believe people are still even trying to live in New Orleans. Give it up, let the city go. It isn't worth our tax dollars to rebuild.
Posted By Anonymous Charlie, Alexandria, LA : 5:22 AM ET
Does anyone else feel that as more disasters occur worldwide, the responsibility to clean up the mess, raise funds and sort things out is, to a certain extent, falling more and more upon the shoulders of ordinary citizens? And then our hard earned cash gets handed over to governments/organisations that casually fritter it away on ill-thought out/questionable ventures. If it weren't for the media constantly alerting/reminding the world, would politicians do even less than they are currently being shamed into doing? I say it's time they were forced to lead by example which means, for one thing, that their exhorbitant salaries should be drastically lowered across the board (even a President's) and increased if/when they prove themselves worthy - only to be lowered again at the first sign of corruption/wilful incompetence. Surely that's what this is at this stage ... wilful incompetence!
Posted By Anonymous Nikky, London, UK : 6:39 AM ET
Until last year I worked in public health in the state of Missouri. None of this surprises me. When the bird flu comes here we will be stacking bodies like cord wood.
Posted By Anonymous Craig, Jefferson City MO : 7:35 AM ET
It sounds like Doctors Without Borders, but right here in the United States! As an American, I am ashamed. Maybe instead of quail hunting and ranch handling, the government could at least pretend to care about its people. Pathetic is right.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy, Long Island NY : 7:38 AM ET
Cannot believe that people would risk their health just to go party before this city is back on its feet, if it ever get there. Evacuees take note, your Mayor is more interested in a party than you getting back. Wonder if Nagin's family is back from Dallas yet? With the damage done, there is no way this place can be healthy, especially since the cleanup has been halted by the evacuees and this mold and the other hazards are still there. Funny how we never see any progress reports, even though the money spent so far should have yielded some results.
Posted By Anonymous Larry Shaw, Houston,TX : 8:04 AM ET
Obviously if they cannot get the housing correct then do we really expect them to get the medical fields up and running correctly? As deeply important that medical is anywhere and should be top priority at any time, It should however be more important in ANY disaster area with proper medical equipment and trained personel.
Posted By Anonymous Brenda Flint, Michigan : 9:14 AM ET
The next hurricane season is a few months away. Experts have already said we are in for the next 10 years for serious hurricanes to hit us. The medical community & local & federal governments better get a better plan together to prepare for the worst. What is wrong in New Orleans is going to continue because of the apathy since Andrew.
Posted By Anonymous Jeanne Landry, Cape Coral, Fl. : 10:23 AM ET
Can't you see there not really trying to do anything in that area. To the government that location looks like a gold mine. There not concerned with the health of others in that area until there gone. Once that happens an the area is re-developed, then you'll see changes within New Orleans.
Posted By Anonymous Tony, Arlington, VA : 10:23 AM ET
It's not just areas of New Orleans (St. Bernards has 3 local doctors remaining)but all over the region doctors and other medical personnel are not returning. If you live in Plaquemines Parish (east bank), the FEMA site in St.Bernards is the closest aid. And that will be closing soon. There is next to nothing in Gulf Port. This would be a good topic to further address. Yes, there are areas doing well, but where it's bad, it's really bad. The more rural communities have been all-but forgotten, as an example.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa, Minneapolis, MN : 10:57 AM ET
Vicki, Long Island, NY:
I lived and studied in New Orleans, loved and love it so much, I love the people who are very friendly, but, having traveled to many countries, I could not refrain from thinking like ....."Is New Orleans in the US? Why does it resemble a 3rd world country in some respect?". No offense, I love the city, but cannot understand, especially after Katrina, how it's been left behind this way .... HELP!
Posted By Anonymous Miranda Clarkson, Evanston, IL : 11:45 AM ET
It is not so easy to resume full medical service in a city which has sustained such a large devastating natural disaster. I was in New Orleans as a health care volunteer during Hurricane Katrina, and I saw the devastation to not only Tulane Hospital but to Charity and to LSU university hospital. True there are other smaller hospitals in the metro New Orleans area, but they are probably short-staffed too and have some physical plant damages. It takes the will of the government to repair this damaged infrastructure. What has the Mayor and the Governor done about all of this?
Posted By Anonymous John, Burlington, MA : 12:38 PM ET
What is deplorable in so many respects is that Mardi Gras will go on- it is the life blood of tax revenue (the party scene) what is so tragic is the lack of provisions for predictable harms in a "party city". Zero medical detox beds and primary public healthcare operation that is strained beyond words. My heart and thanks to the tireless dedication of medical professionals giving night and day for those in need in the city.

There is a way to find balence in all of this it requires leadership.
Leadership from federal, state, and local levels can make this happen. FYI--all of these folks knew about the landscape for years prior to this storm-virtually no real improvement that obviously brought on many of the needless struggles, deaths, etc related to this storm.

Really the question we should be asking is how can we find the leadership we need to lead all people in our state and impacted areas to a better life which includes public health and safety for all people- not just those in certain areas with certain incomes.
Basic human rights--there's a novel idea for our state!
Posted By Anonymous Sam, Baton Rouge, LA : 1:28 PM ET
Well, I have to say that if I needed to go to the hospital, unless I had been shot, stabbed, or needed the trauma center at Charity, I wouldn't have gone there before the storm. Ochsner or Touro or Memorial would have been my choices. And most people I know would have made the same decisions. Charity is for those without insurance or those that needed the high level trauma care it provided. And Charity won't reopen it's building - isn't it too damaged? The doctors are the same doctors who were there before - and I always thought they were excellant docs.

Are the available hospitals any farther away from most New Orleanians than they are if you lived in a rural area? I live in Mid City and it would take me 10 minutes to get to any of the opened hospitals in NOLA.

For those of you who say that NOLA shouldn't celebrate Mardi Gras - why shouldn't we. It's our parade. We desperately need people to spend money here to help our economy - with out an economy there can be no workers or places for those workers to live. The government has promised us much, but given us very little....we need to get money in here somewhere, and we need the normalicy. Any little bit of normal life means more than you can imagine. Perhaps people will act a little better and not get into drunken brawls....but you never know. At least they can be taken to the Convention Center to great trauma care.

Please don't let the city that care forgot be the city that people forgot....
Posted By Anonymous Anita, New Orleans, LA : 1:43 PM ET
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