New Orleans Health Care Recovering From Hurricane

The Louisiana State University Health Science Center is making progress recovering from Hurricane Katrina, but a lot of work remains. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports the medical leaders are working on a new structure for the New Orleans public health care system.

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Hurricane Katrina severely damaged 21 of 22 LSU medical school buildings. Seven of its nine teaching hospitals have been closed since the flooding from the levee breaches. LSU Health Science Center Chancellor Doctor Larry Hollier says a top priority immediately following the storm was to keep the schools in Louisiana.

"LSU Health Science Centers in New Orleans trains 70 percent of the health care professionals who practice in the state of Louisiana. And if we had moved these schools out of the state, our real concern was that we would lose a major part of our healthcare workforce for the future."

Hollier says one sign of recovery is the classrooms are now moving back to New Orleans. It's a different story for the teaching hospitals. University Hospital is not expected to re-open until November. Hollier says the news is not as good for Charity Hospital.

"There is a lot of sentiment for this building. I would like to see it come back; I don't think it's really usable as a hospital. But it certainly would be usable for office space, perhaps ambulatory clinics, housing."

New Orleans ER physician Doctor James Moises is president of the Louisiana chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He says opening University is more of a symbolic move because it is the smaller of the two hospitals.

"It's going to give us some relief but the problem is you don't have the capacity ... really make difference."

Moises argues that if Charity Hospital can be used for other means, then it should be used to help ease the healthcare needs now. LSU's Hollier says they are working on a plan to renew the public hospital infrastructure in New Orleans.

"The plan now will be to consolidate as much as we can at least as far as hospital infrastructure. And we have a memorandum of understanding signed with the VA, the governor and our LSU Health Care Services Division that runs the hospitals to build a new University Hospital that will be a combination of VA and Charity Hospital with common shared infrastructure."

Hollier hopes the result will be a more financially sound medical system.But Moises says the plan does nothing to help the immediate problems.

"It is a very long term ... what we are supposed to do in the meantime."

New Orleans private hospitals have become overloaded with patients. Again, LSU's Hollier ...

"Hospitals are running anywhere from 15 to 18 percent of their beds filled with uninsured. At the present time, that is a financial drain on the hospitals."

Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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