Friday, April 14, 2006
Big Easy health care falls on hard times
It's 5:15 p.m. when two nurses pull back the curtain to speak with Martha Breaux about her chest pains. She has been in the emergency room at East Jefferson Hospital in New Orleans since 5 a.m.

Considering how long she's been there, the elderly patient is in amazing spirits.

"The doctors and nurses have been great," she tells me. "There's just no room to put me in."

This is the norm these days here in New Orleans. Only five hospitals remain open in the area post-Hurricane Katrina. Couple that with the fact that as many as 40 percent of doctors have left the area in the past seven months, according to the Orleans Parish Medical Society, and it's clear why overcrowding is a problem.

On top of that, the hospitals still open are bleeding money, in part because they're treating more uninsured patients than they were before Katrina.

Until it flooded after the hurricane, Charity Hospital had been treating most of the uninsured patients in New Orleans, bolstered by more than $400 million in annual state funding.

But with Charity closed, the remaining hospitals are picking up much of Charity's work. They are doing this without most of the $400 million that Charity had been receiving, because the state eliminated the bulk of this money from its budget, another result of its post-Katrina financial crisis.

Local health officials have lobbied lawmakers in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C., for extra funding, but they have come back empty-handed, dire news for a city struggling to provide health care to its residents.
Posted By Sean Callebs, CNN Correspondent: 6:50 PM ET
  29 Comments
Sean
Great post and it also goes to show the state of health care in this nation. I'm sure if GW had to depend on the bills he has passed about medicare and state health programs the changes needed would take place a whole lot quicker. Charity begins at home when is Washington going to understand that. The state of Health care everywhere in this country is in a sad state, and when tragedy happens like it did NOLA there is no backup plans to help. Blessings on those working and staying in NOLA trying to help.
Thanks for bringing this story to the forefront
Posted By Anonymous Julie, Erwin, Tn : 7:09 PM ET
It will FOREVER amaze me that one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world can turn it's back on it's residents like that. Is it THAT hard for the government to lend a hand?
Posted By Anonymous Laura, Key Largo, FL : 7:41 PM ET
Sean,

As a person involved with healthcare up close, this is the same story being played around the nation. It is so sad to see the uninsured suffer. (in the practice I work in we give away services on a daily basis just to help those who have no insurance coverage) What can providers do in New Orleans when there is nothing left to give? I worry about the state of mind for the health care providers. You can only work under those conditions for so long. It must feel impossible to "First do no harm".
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl Raleigh, NC : 7:59 PM ET
Where are the donations?The billion dollars that were donated to Katrina relief?How many who lost houses or apartments got trailers? How many were given jobs as well helping rebuild NO?Not nearly enough.When will we realize our government never intended to help the disenfranchised poor after Katrina.Just make them fade into the woodwork while the politicians rebuild their upper class areas and take care of their own.
Posted By Anonymous Shannon,Boston ,Ma : 8:01 PM ET
It is positively breathtaking to me that the conservative voters in this country do not blink an eye at spending billions of dollars every few months to rebuild what we have just blown apart in Iraq, yet so willing to allow our government to refuse to spend the tax dime on the health and welfare of its citizens. It is a scary thought, after these past six years, to imagine just what it will take to garner the attention of American voters.
Posted By Anonymous pat, hickory, nc : 8:32 PM ET
There is a lesson in all of the experiences from Katrina - that is you can rely on yourself, your neighbors and private charitable groups, especially churches - but under no circumstances should you allow yourself to be in a position to depend upton government bureaucracies. It doesn't matter whether Republican or Democrat - the professional bureaucracies are simply incapable of thoughtful, prompt response to tragedies. I truly sympathize with those who must depend on government, but anyone who doesn't make preparations to care for themselves through insurance, cash reserves, etc. is in for a world of hurt. The medical community in New Orleans has performed well above and beyond the call of duty, but there is a real question as to how long they can continue to care for indigent populations without any hope of reimbursement.
Posted By Anonymous Jerry McInvale, New Orleans, LA : 9:07 PM ET
This speaks to the need for a national health insurance plan. If it was in place, we would not have this problem. I own a flooded out home in NOLA and I had a successful career, but when my job was eliminated because of the storm, I faced a health insurance problem. I am now paying $318/month for COBRA coverage and I am still seeking work. What's going on with this government???
Posted By Anonymous Paige B., Austin, TX : 9:25 PM ET
Ochsner Hospital in Jefferson, LA, just outside of Uptown New Orleans, deserves a lot of credit for their work immediately after Katrina. They stayed open constantly and their doctors and staff worked ridiculous shifts, often without knowing the status of their homes or loved ones, to ensure that there was a fully functioning hospital in the Metro region.
Posted By Anonymous Jason, Maryland via New Orleans : 9:57 PM ET
I find this so devastating, we had billions of dollars and instead of insuring our own Americans are taken care of we spend our money on an attack.
Posted By Anonymous Melis, SLC, UT : 10:15 PM ET
Sean,
I have recently returned from NO where I worked as a nurse and am amazed at the resilence of the people. While working there, I slept in the hospital and they were wonderful to me. Why can't we repay their kindness? These people are making due with what's there. Don't they deserve more?
Posted By Anonymous Sharon, Shelby, NC : 10:16 PM ET
Disgraceful. I am not sure there is much more that any of us can say.
Posted By Anonymous Christine, Canton, OH : 10:38 PM ET
With nurses being offered $85.00 per hour and the billions of tax dollars going to New Orleans - how are they bleeding money? Where is it going?
Posted By Anonymous Milena, Ft. Lauderdale : 10:51 PM ET
Has anyone ever asked why New Orleans has had so much trouble rebuilding? What is the problem? Other cities have been devestated by storms or other natural disasters and seem to come out of it themselves. Yet we continue to hear how New Orleans has been abandoned, GW is a lousy president, etc. What is NO doing for themselves? It is almost like the homeless who hold signs saying"will work for food" but if you offer them work they have a back problem. NO wants the rest of the country to pay to restore their city while thay sit around watching the work being done. But you know what? They will party with you when you are done. NO loves to party.
Posted By Anonymous Marc, Phoenix, Arizona : 10:55 PM ET
Sean,
People can go on and on about the disenfranchisement of the poor and the lack of resources available to them around the country. The situation in New Orleans, though, is on a different level. In ERs across the city, it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, insured or not, you have to wait in line to be seen. At the hospital where I work, people wait sometimes 12 hours or more to be seen in the ER. Once they are admitted, they are often boarded in the ER rather than brought to a room on the floor upstairs, simply because there are no rooms available. We have ICU patients boarding in the ER and the recovery room for several days at a time. We are blind to people's financial situations, so everyone is treated equally. Becaause Charity is closed, there is a dirth of hospital beds in the city and it affects everyone's access to healthcare, not just the poor.
Posted By Anonymous Kyle, New Orleans, LA : 11:07 PM ET
Maybe we should give them some better healthcare...but make the health care in another city. Once again people are complaining about not getting something for free that they don't deserve. If you want to move back to New Orleans then that is fine, just do it on your own means and don't ask taxpayers for any help. If you want to move somewhere else, that is a feasible place to live, like Baton Rouge, then be all means we should help you out. Just say NO to rebuilding in NO.
Posted By Anonymous Brant, Madison, Wisconsin : 11:13 PM ET
Good for the doctors and nurses who decided to stay! They've never been needed more than they are now, and I commend their decision not to leave in search of more money or better working conditions.
Posted By Anonymous Michelle, Jacksonville, NC : 8:04 AM ET
It seems impossible to believe that anyone in the country does not have health insurance--irresponsible that we are not a country willing to take care of our own by first and foremost providing health insurance to every single person in this country. When will this crisis finally be addressed and how many people die annually because of it? That's the kind of reporting I'd like to hear....
Posted By Anonymous Tamera, Dallas, TX : 10:27 AM ET
Don't dress it up, rich people don't care, nor do people who are generally well off. Now we have inner-class bickering so awful that the middle class starts to blame the lower class for its problems... must tip your hat to the elite for making that mindset possible
Posted By Anonymous ML, Kansas City, MO : 11:09 AM ET
Hi Sean,
I think you should give out the names of the State and Federal lawmakers who said NO to the local health officials..I think you should give the reasons they said NO..I want to hear both sides of the story. Also, have other areas in the country after a disaster experienced the same cold shoulder, or is it just New Orleans? These are the questions I'd like to hear answered in the near future. There are a lot of people here in America, myself included, who still care very much about what is and isn't going on in the Gulf Coast. But we can't be of that much help, unless you give us some guidance. What Senators aren't helping, what's the Governor doing..etc...I'd like to hear specifics..Take Care..Thanks for all your work you do.
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 10:15 PM ET
If I may throw this out there, forgive me for its irrelevance. It seems as though we are entirely too pessimistic about our country. We always say that "Our economy is bad, everyone is obese, our national security is down, Hollywood is going under, High school dropouts, war, racism, violation of citizen freedoms."

When a national tragedy strikes. One such as Katrina or 9/11 "God Bless America" We suddenly pull patriotism out of thin air.

Nothing is good enough for the American people. I constantly see polls on CNN.com with results leaning towards a more negatively-favorable answer. It gets old, I can practically predict the statistics.

Maybe it's this administration. Personally, I think it is.

Again, I'd like to irrelavantly throw out the fact that I LOVE AMERICA.

And we will get out of any holes we may dig ourselves into, and eventually dig ourselves out of the holes we will get into no matter who is in the White House.
Posted By Anonymous Robert, Richmond, VA : 11:24 PM ET
Thank you. Anderson and CNN for bringing out another point that needs to be addressed, e.g., healthcare in the US and its rising costs. Check out this business deal: If we were to split 50/50 the many billions of dollars we spent on Iraq and gave the first 50 to the Oil companies and other associates and spent the remaining 50 on healthcare subsidies and other much needed social services we would all be ahead. Not to mention the many dead and wounded people on both sides and the costs associated with that. As history has shown, fading hormones of leaders have gotten many countries into situations like ours. Somebody (can't remember who right now) said: "if we don't learn from history we are apt to repeat it."
Posted By Anonymous Anna M Freed, Ph.D., Sykesville, MD : 9:54 AM ET
This is just another sad situation with our healthcare system. Within the last two years several hospitals have shut down in the Los Angeles area due to the enormous amount of free health care they ended up providing since those that showed up to the ER had no insurance. This has been an ongoing issue and until our government no longer is able to receive medical care, I highly doubt anything will change for us fellow citizens.
Posted By Anonymous M. Wong, Van Nuys, CA : 6:01 PM ET
Sean,
Do you know if the medical services at the New Orleans Centre are having the same problems?
Posted By Anonymous Marla Gaspard, Irving, TX : 9:42 PM ET
National Health Care!!!

We pay for medical care in many ways, rather from out of pocket, to medicare or medicaid, etc...

I wish someone could explain to me why we cant consolidate all these monies and programs into a national system for all. Even it means paying somekind of additional sales taxes.

Why, do we not cover all people and pay for it. The private care sector is not working, we get bad drugs that dont work, the FDA doesnt function properly, people dont do preventative care because of costs or just cant afford it. The old do without, children do without, when the youth are getting sicker sooner and obese.

If people are worried about not getting the best of care, think again, what great care.

Time is now for National Health cover age for all. Except Illegals!!

Its the right thing to do!!!

Lets stop wasting money and have a program for the good of all people.
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Zephyrhills, FL : 10:24 PM ET
There will ALWAYS be uninsured people all over the country. That will never change, and it will always be a problem, for the patient, for the government, and for the taxpayer.

However, I feel that the real issue here is that the leadership in New Orleans and the state of Louisana are simply ill-equipped and inexperienced to handle Katrina and its aftermath.

I truly feel that both Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco wanted to be the next "Rudy Guiliani" and save the day when Katrina hit, for nothing more than political reasons. But they were simply unable to pull it off. Their state suffered and their people suffered. And now that Katrina is here and gone, the after-effects are still being felt.

Nevermind rebuilding the city in a year, or getting all the displaced residents to return. Nagin and Blanco can't even take care of the people that are still there, even though the population of the city has dropped to all time lows.

They both failed. Get them out of office, and put in somebody who knows what they're doing.
Posted By Anonymous Andrew, Miami, FL : 10:40 PM ET
Did I hear that they are paying nurses $85.00 an hour???

Where do you sign up???
Posted By Anonymous LindaV, Butler, PA : 1:14 PM ET
Why is it that Hospitals are obligated to treat patients that do not have insurance or cannot pay? At any other store or company, its pay for services rendered or dont ask for it... Right? Also why is it the governments problem to pay for housing for these people after katrina? Does the government bring housing to tornado stricken areas? wild Fire Areas? We may be the richest country however we are becoming a nation of blame and we need to start watching out for ourselves and not depending on the government to do it for us. And the doctors that left realize that they cannot make thousands of dollars a month as they are accustom to making for little or no work due to all the insurance money they were making.
Maybe all the Hospitals need to be a cash only buisness and rid them of insurance and see if the Dr's could survive on earned money and not inflated money they make by over charging the Insurance industry. Drs make way to much for petty things, and im sure you will have those that ask the question What is the price for saving a life? I dont know but It shouldnt come from me paying into an insurance fund and never using it, and others tapping into that fund for millions of dollars of unnessary procedures done only to pad a Drs bank account or their third malibu home.
Posted By Anonymous Brian S Freedom Pa : 1:20 PM ET
Please note: The people coming to our hospitals in the Greater New Orleans area are not just locals. They are immigrants, out-of-towners and tourists who need medical care and we have to provide care to them whether they are insured or not. Perhaps we should all take a look at what the State of Mass recently did regarding healthcare.
Posted By Anonymous Jessie, Metairie, LA : 4:34 PM ET
My sister is a nurse at East Jefferson Hospital, the one mentioned in this report. During Hurricane Katrina she was on duty for one and a half weeks straight. Locked down in the hospital due to flooding and criminals on the streets. The nurses and staff were asked to ration their food so the patients had enough to eat. My sister and the staff at EJ are my heroes. George W. Bush could learn much from them, like, how to take care of our country.
Posted By Anonymous Karen Pizzitola Casey, Arlington, TX : 4:23 PM ET
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