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A Look Back At Hurricane Katrina

Aired September 2, 2006 - 08:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going to happen to some of these patients if we don't get out of here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of them have already died here on this ramp waiting to get out in this very spot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A nightmare came to life. Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes back to New Orleans and Charity Hospital. Is the city's health system on life support?

And living as a survivor in the Gulf Coast during hurricane season.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're standing there hoping please don't come this way. Please don't come this way.



SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning and welcome to HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta with a very special edition of HOUSECALL.

One year ago, this first weekend of September, I was in a lawless city, in a hospital pinned down by snipers, unable to evacuate the sick, no electricity, and running out of supplies. Sounds like a third world country. But in fact, it was Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

A year later, I wanted to go back to Charity, back to New Orleans and see for myself how the people and the crumbling healthcare system have survived.


GUPTA (voice-over): A year later, the images still haunt me.

(on camera): This is unlike any emergency room or hospital ward you've ever seen. Take a look over here behind me. These patients, several of them, have been waiting here for several hours. Some of the patients requiring ventilators have actually even had air forced in by hand over the entire day today.

GUPTA (voice-over): Four days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the city, it was mayhem. A moat of water keeps patients in and much needed supplies out. Doctors scramble to keep their patients alive.

Choppers land on parking decks, turned landing pads, evacuating whoever they can. Not everyone got out.

(on camera): Right over there behind me, I'll add this point. Two patients died there not that long ago, waiting to be evacuated. That is what they need more than anything else now.

That was then, this is now. Fresh coats of paint, perhaps. But still a hospital system that need as lot more fixing. What goes through your mind?

DON SMITHBURG, CEO LSU HEALTHCARE SERVICES: Well, despair because you can't help but walk through here and think about what it used to be, and what it did, and what it did for the community.

GUPTA (voice-over): Charity was the nation's second oldest hospital, one of the largest and most famed trauma centers in the world. Generations of emergency physicians trained here.

When Katrina hit, no running water, very little food, but the staff met the storm head on. They moved their patients to higher ground, working by flashlight. Generators flooded. So they patched together electricity to care for the most critical.

But now, Charity's doors are shut for good. A patient will never be treated here again.

(on camera): This is the emergency room. Last time we were here, as far as you could look, there were patients just stacked up everywhere. And now it's just equipments. These are ventilators, for example. Equipment just stacked up everywhere.

The smell - it's still very much in the air. It reminds me of just one year ago. But this place in so many ways has become a hospital graveyard.

RODERICK BENNETT, DR., LSU HEALTHCARE SERVICES: In all honesty, being in there, I thought that they'd pump the water out of the basement and we'd be back in this hospital.

GUPTA: Discarded and damaged now, but in the first few weeks after Katrina, a team of volunteer doctors cleaned up Charity, an effort to bring care back to a flailing city.

BENNETT: We had the ER, the first floor of the hospital up, running, functional ready to take patients in. You know, we got vetoed. And it comes from above our heads.

GUPTA: Is there any way this building could be saved in your opinion?

SMITHBURG: Oh, I think there are potentials for reuse.

GUPTA: But not as a hospital.

SMITHBURG: Not as a hospital.

GUPTA: Don Smithburg is CEO of the Charity Hospital System. He says a team of consulting engineers found the building unsalvageable.

SMITHBURG: It's a better use of taxpayer dollars to build on a green field site and build right and smarter and more efficient, than trying to repair something that was on the verge of losing its accreditation before the storm.

GUPTA: It will be at least five years until Charity has a comparable replacement. Will you stick around?

BENNETT: Yes, I'm going to stick around. It's -- I'm like part of the storm. I've got to see how it ends.


GUPTA: See how it ends. I guess that's what a lot of people want to do. And here's something to consider. In 2004, Charity and University Hospital admitted more than 25,000 patients and processed 300,000 clinic visits. Now with Charity closed and University about to reopen, but at a mere fraction of its original capacity, many are asking this question. What happens if you get sick in New Orleans? And the worst case, what if another storm were to hit?


GUPTA: So now a year later, we look back on the year, are you pleased with how things have gone?

FRED CERISE, DR., LA. DEPT. OF HEALTH AND HOSPITALS: I don't think anybody's pleased with where we are right now.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Fred Cerise is the state secretary of health. He's supposed to be leading the effort to resuscitate healthcare, but nearly a year after Katrina, there still is no plan. He started working on one just last month when he was tapped by the governor and the federal government.

This is a complicated problem. Are you responsible?

CERISE: It's not going to be one person that you can point to and say you're responsible for the healthcare system.

GUPTA: But if the state's top health official isn't responsible, who is? Cerise doesn't have an answer for us. Meantime, people are at risk again.

There were six shootings in New Orleans last night. There was only two operating rooms available. What's going to happen if this continues to happen as the city repopulates? And don't forget we're back in hurricane season?

CERISE: The city is stressed right now. There's not - there is no surge capacity, if you will.

GUPTA: Half the areas hospitals remain closed. Patient filled ambulance wait hours to load. The mentally ill have nowhere to go. Suicide rates have tripled. Every emergency room is at full capacity 24 hours a day, every day.

(on camera): This is the famed trauma center of Charity Hospital. They actually wheeled patients right into this area and try and take care of some of the sickest and dying patients here in the city.

What we have found now, though, is that it's the hospital itself that is sick and dying. And that has become a metaphor in so many ways for the overall state of healthcare here in New Orleans.

(voice-over): The building is now deemed unsalvageable. So Charity opened an emergency clinic in no joke an abandoned department store without any beds, incapable of admitting patients, strictly triage.

And it opened a center for trauma only in this fertility clinic 20 minutes from downtown. Some New Orleans doctors say rebuilding healthcare has not been a priority at any level of government.

This is crazy. I mean, it's been a year. I mean, hotels are opening up, businesses are opening up. We're talking about hospitals here.

Three-quarters of its physicians have left New Orleans, but not Dr. Jim Aiken.

JIM AIKEN, DR.: We still feel like we're kind of a stepchild in first response.

GUPTA: Cerise's committee is expected to propose a healthcare fix in October, nearly 14 months after Katrina.

CERISE: It's a complex multitude of problems. Now can we do more, absolutely?

GUPTA: University Hospital will be opening this fall, but it will be a long time before it's safe to get sick in New Orleans.


GUPTA: I have to tell you, I mean I was pretty surprised at how little care people can really get in New Orleans.

And coming up, we'll talk with a doctor from Charity who's decided to stick it out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A doctor on the inside of Charity Hospital during the worst. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hot, we're tired. We hear help's on the way.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It didn't come for days. Now what made him stay a year later when so many have left New Orleans?



GUPTA: How hard has this been to actually take care of patients?

BENNETT: I mean, we don't have electricity. We don't have water. All the toilets are full. You know, we can't run labs. We can't take X-rays. I mean, we're basically back to primitive medicine.


GUPTA: And that was Dr. Robert Bennett and myself outside Charity Hospital just three days into the post Katrina flooding that surrounded that hospital.

Charity was known as one of the best trauma centers anywhere in the country. Now its doors are closed. The medical staff that once worked there have been displaced. And the community it served are at a loss as to where to go, but Dr. Bennett has stayed. And he's a chief resident in emergency medicine at Charity.

Dr. Bennett, thanks so much. Good to see you again.

BENNETT: It's great to see you.

GUPTA: Thank you. You know, let's talk about your patients. So many of the patients at Charity -- this is really striking -- are the underserved. They didn't have insurance. So they were hard to take care of in the first place. Where are they going now?

BENNETT: Well, right now, you know for their acute care, they have to go to basically any emergency department in the city, all of which are essentially full right now. And you know, depending on how bad their condition is, you know, they have to be seen in the emergency department.

But if you're not acutely ill and, you know, in need of treatment right then, right there, you know, our resources are very thin as far as primary care, preventative care, and just making sure that, you know, the people in New Orleans, you know, who don't have insurance are trying to stay healthy.

GUPTA: You know, it's sort of striking. And I'm sure you've been following the news, as have I, with Ernesto. You know, let's say that was a hurricane that did affect New Orleans again, and you had a massive storm and the massive casualties and injuries that come along with that. How would New Orleans fare from your perspective?

BENNETT: Well, that's difficult to imagine. You know, we have even less resources than we had this time ayear ago. So I mean, preparing for that number of casualties, you know, we definitely - we simply - we don't have the resources for something, you know, on that scale.

GUPTA: You know, you walk around the city, Dr. Bennett. You see businesses, you see hotels reopening. Why not hospitals? I mean, you helped fix up the existing emergency room at Charity? Why didn't people move back into that hospital?

BENNETT: Well, there are trains of thought, basically, on Charity. One camp has deemed the hospital, you know, unsalvageable. It can't be used in any capacity. And there's another camp who, you know, thinks that while we're waiting for something in the interim, that, you know, building, you know, it's before it to go completely unused, is, you know, it's hard to imagine. There's got to be some kind of use for it.

GUPTA: This is very controversial point, as I have found in my visits down to New Orleans. Where do you stand on that, Dr. Bennett? And I know this is controversial, but I mean, do you think that this could be used as a hospital again?

BENNETT: Myself personally, I'm not an engineer. But I was there during the storm. And then I was there, you know, we helped - we cleaned it up. And you know, it's hard to imagine that, you know, the place that looks so good, you know, after we cleaned it that, you know, it couldn't be used, you know, for something to help out some way.

GUPTA: You know, I've been told many times there just aren't enough health staff down there, whether it be doctors to nurses to technicians to support more patients. But I mean, again, your opinion, could all the people who work there really come back? And is that the answer to better healthcare in New Orleans?

BENNETT: Right now, yes, we had waiting lists, call lists, to call employees back. And you know, especially right after the storm, people were very eager to come back to the system. But you know now it's been so long and trying to attract these workers back. There's a critical nursing shortage. There's a shortage of ancillary services. So it's going to be a tough draw to get people back to actually staff these facilities when they come back up again.

GUPTA: And I want to talk about something that I think sometimes doesn't get mentioned a lot -- the mentally ill now. The city went from having 450 beds for psychiatric patients to 80. Suicide rates down there in New Orleans have tripled. And this is remarkable. I mean, I understand the fact that you have to be very, very sick to even get a doctor's attention. But what about the very depressed people? BENNETT: Yes, that's one of the hardest things we deal with in the emergency department right now, because the resources for the entire state are taxed. I mean, if you are mentally ill in New Orleans, you could end up five hours away. Whichever facility has a bed, we will get you to that bed.

But seriously, we have to send people, you know, as far away as Shreveport sometimes, you know, just to get them, you know, psychiatric treatment.

GUPTA: Well, Dr. Bennett, I mean, I wish you the best. I'm so glad you stayed. Try and take care of patient downs there. They could certainly use your services. And thanks so much for being with us as well.

BENNETT: Right, thanks.

GUPTA: Keep up the good work.

More HOUSECALL coming up after the break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From frustration and fear to joy, that's the process we find in Mississippi.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm like a kid in a candy store. It is so beautiful.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll explain when HOUSECALL returns.

First, this week's medical headline in the "Pulse".


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The southern United States is home to more obese residents than any other region. A study by the Trust for America's Health reveals obesity rates increased over last year in 31 sates. Mississippi weighs in at number one. Colorado was the leanest state.

Long hours on the job may equal an increased risk for high blood pressure. A survey of California workers found the more hours they worked, the higher their chance of developing hypertension.

A researcher at the National Cancer Institute reports progress in fighting skin cancer. Dr. Steve Rosenberg is using gene therapy in a small group of patients who were in late stage melanoma to teach their immune system to attack the disease. He reports two patients out of 17 are cancer free.

Judy Fortin, CNN.


GUPTA: While much of the focus has been on New Orleans, Katrina cut a swath across the Gulf Coast, leveling parts of the Mississippi coast. In towns like Gulfport, Biloxi, Waveland where thousands used to live and vacation, only hundreds remain, still hoping to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Dan Lothian now with their story.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Along Mississippi's devastated coastline, Scott Gunn still has his breathtaking waterfront view, but not the house Katrina took away.

SCOTT GUNN, GULFPORT RESIDENT: Basically, the foundations look exactly the same as they did the day after the storm.

LOTHIAN: He's been living in a FEMA trailer on his property in Gulfport, waiting for insurance money and a government grant.

GUNN: I knew that nothing was going to happen that fast.

BRENT WARR, MAYOR, GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI: We lost every significant historical landmark on the beachfront.

LOTHIAN: Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr says so much was taken away from his city, but with sales tax revenue picking up from residence who are rebuilding, the news isn't all bad.

WARR: I'm very optimistic and pleased. Yes, it's too slow. You know, but it would have been too slow if it was three times faster than it's been.

LOTHIAN: In Waveland, 30 miles west of Gulfport, where much of the shoreline was wiped out, it still looks like last year. 11 communities in Mississippi are still trying to recover physically and emotionally.

JENNIE HILLMAN, DIRECTOR, PROJECT RECOVERY: They've been concerned about getting a house and getting a car, and getting their job, getting their life back together. Now the emotional issues are starting to creep in.

LOTHIAN: Project Recovery, a FEMA funded organization, has recently seen a sharp increase in suicide calls to its hotline, and overall, a rise in the number of people seeking assistance. Volunteer counselors like Dick and Marian Brown go door to door, offering help and a listening ear.

MARIAN BROWN: It helps them just to unload.

DICK BROWN: It's important than when we started.

LOTHIAN: A few days ago, they met Gloria Tartovoulle, a Waveland resident who lost just about everything and whose son became critically ill after the storm.

A year later now, is it any easier to deal with this or?

GLORIA TARTOVOULLE, WAVELAND, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT: No. As a matter of fact, it seems like it gets harder, because you think you should be more ahead than what you are.

LOTHIAN: The threat of more hurricanes, she says, adds even more mental stress.

TARTOVOULLE: You're just sitting there, hoping, please don't come this way. Please don't come this way.

LOTHIAN: In this hard hit state, the stories of loss can be overwhelming. But even here, there are people who have a lot to smile about.

LINDA MCLAUGHLIN: I'm like a kid in a candy store. It is so beautiful.

LOTHIAN: Biloxi native Linda Mclaughlin's home was renovated after Katrina left it under seven feet water, and forced her and her family into these backyard tents. She had no insurance, no money, but she did have volunteers.

MCLAUGHLIN: We couldn't have never did what was done.

LOTHIAN: The gift came from Habitat for Humanity and Boat People SOS, two groups now helping others just around the corner.

NATHAN JOURDAN, BOAT PEOPLE SOS: You put somebody in a house, and that's a band-aid on their whole life.

PETER SALEMME, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: It's not going to happen quick, but we're making slow steady pressure on it, and getting them done little by little.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Gulfport, Mississippi.


GUPTA: All right, Dan, thanks so much. And when HOUSECALL returns, an inner city intervention of sorts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's time for a food intervention.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Juice. The rest of it is sugar. It's 95 percent. There's too much sugar.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How at risk kids are learning how to say whoa, before they go and eat too much of their favorite foods.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. As I've covered everything from natural disasters to outbreaks of disease, the one thing that stands out is the people most at risk. They are the underserved, the people with the least amount of money and the least amount of resources.

When it comes to the obesity epidemic, the story is no different. Now a new program in Atlanta is targeting that vulnerable population -- intercity preteens and their parents.


GUPTA (voice-over): Now here's a diet any kid would love. French fries make the cut. So does candy. Even soda is still on the menu. All part of the "Let's Get Fit" program for these kids, trying to reach a healthier body weight.

"Let's get Fit" isn't some crazy new diet or exercise fad. Backed by the Centers for Disease Control, it's an obesity intervention program that turns young children into experienced dietitians.

RYAN LENCREROT, STUDENT: You get juice, five percent fruit juice, the rest of the sugar is 95 percent. It's too much sugar.

LOTHIAN: In this Emory University pilot program, children like Ryan and a parent team up to focus on three key areas. More physical activity, reducing screen time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to watch like eight hours of TV straight.

SHADONNA BELL, 4th GRADER: When I'm into TV, I'm like this. I can't move. My mom could be saying there's a fire in the house, I will not move. I'm serious.

GUPTA: And embracing an eating plan called "Go Slow, Whoa."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which one is our whoa food? All right. He said the fruit roll-ups. Whoa, right. Whoa, because why? What is it high in, fat or sugar?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very high in sugar.

GUPTA: In their diet plan, participants don't eliminate food in the high fat whoa category. They learn to eat less of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I'm eating a candy bar, I could cut it in half.

GUPTA: Parents are key to children's success and have learned to remove temptations as well. CECILIA MITCHELL, PARENT: I used to work at night. Whatever's in there, they would be tempted to go in there and get it. I make sure I don't have those things in there for them.

ANNE LONG DUNLOP, DR., EMORY FAMILY & PREVENTITIVE MEDICINE: For the most part, kids and families really know what it means to eat healthy and to be active. But where families really fall down on this is how do you actually change those eating and activity behaviors?

GUPTA: These simple lifestyle changes help participants gradually take off the weight and hopefully keep it off. Fourth grader Shadonna Bell has lost five pounds.

BELL: I feel lighter, because now I can run faster, and I can play games, and I won't get tired as quickly as I used to.

CATHI LENCREROT, PARENT: This has been a blessing for us, you know, to learn this and be able to make it work for us.

GUPTA: Creating a healthier future for these families.


GUPTA: And we kicked off our Fit Nation Tour earlier this year with the help of President Clinton, but fighting the obesity epidemic is not the only challenge he's taken on. Ending poverty is another. In fact, join me tonight for the poverty trap. It's a conversation with President Bill Clinton. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And tune in every weekend at 8:30 a.m. Eastern for another edition of HOUSECALL. Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. So e-mail us at

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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