Hurricane Katrina arrived Monday, Aug. 29, 2005 and it packed a wallop.
It was a scary experience for our patients, their families and the 300 employees and medical staff members who rode out the storm. Fortunately, the hospital came through the experience with little more than a scratch. We survived the hurricane with very little damage, but it soon became apparent that we could not overcome the loss of vital city services such as clean water, sewage removal, electricity and police protection. On Wednesday morning, two days after the hurricane struck, we announced that the hospital would be evacuated.
We owe an incredible amount of gratitude to so many of our children's hospitals across the country for helping us make it through that experience. The call went out for assistance, and the response was overwhelming. A total evacuation of 100 patients and their families was completed in less than 24 hours. This included 21 critically ill pediatric patients and 26 critically ill newborns. Mercy Children's Hospital in Kansas City arranged for two C-130 transport planes, including a medical team sent in another plane, to safely airlift 30 of our patients and their families. Texas Children's Hospital in Houston sent two fixed-wing aircraft and shuttled patients to their hospital as well as other children's hospitals. Miami Children's Hospital, Arkansas Children's Hospital and Cook County Children's Hospital in Chicago sent helicopters. LeBonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis and Children's Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham also stood ready to help and many other children's hospitals around the country and in Canada called to see if they could help. There was also vital support provided by Louisiana hospitals including Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Woman's Hospital, Lafayette General Hospital, and Women's and Children's Hospital.
Lights Off, Doors Locked
By 8 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, for the first time in the 50-year history of Children's Hospital, we were closed. We had placed the last two PICU patients on a helicopter flight to Houston, where Texas Children's Hospital was waiting for them. Our president and CEO, Steve Worley, turned out the lights and locked the front door. You can only imagine the magnitude of the uncertainty that lay ahead. There were so many more questions than answers. One thing we did know, however, was that ALL our patients were safe and in good hands.
Up and Running
Children's Hospital was closed from Sept. 1 until Oct. 10, when we immediately resumed providing the same medical and surgical services as we had before.
Before the hurricane, the hospital had more than 1,600 employees. Although everyone was called back to work after the storm, only two-thirds returned. By December 2006, we had more than 1,390 employees, but were experiencing shortages in many positions. In 2006 and 2007 the hospital had to rely on many agency nurses, which increased our monthly payroll expenses by approximately $750,000. It wasn't until the middle of 2009 that the hospital's dependence on agency nurses was all but eliminated. Real estate shortages, the economy and environmental issues were but a few of the recruiting challenges we faced in those initial post-Katrina years.
Despite a tremendous loss of adult specialists in the community, Children's Hospital lost less than five percent of its pediatric sub-specialists immediately after the hurricane. Success in retaining these physicians was a result of mutual commitments made between the hospital and the sub-specialists to ensure continued availability of care for our region's children.
Children's Hospital worked industriously with the medical community to help preserve all aspects of pediatric care, education and research. As the years have passed, improvements, purchases and expansions have taken place. Many are outlined below.
1. Immediately following the storm we allowed displaced private pediatricians to schedule and see patients in our outpatient specialty clinics.
2. Three of our five "Kids First" primary-care clinics were destroyed by the storm. These clinics were strategically located to provide primary care to the underserved population of the city. All three have been restored (Louisa, Canal and Mid City), one underwent an expansion (Prytania) and two new Kids First clinics (Metairie and N.O. East) have been opened.
3. Because of the closure of Charity Hospital, a teaching institution for the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC), Children's Hospital assumed additional pediatric residency training responsibilities.
4. To assist LSUHSC, which sustained significant damage from Hurricane Katrina, Children's Hospital increased its financial support for LSUHSC's own pediatric faculty.
5. Children's Hospital opened outpatient specialty clinics in Baton Rouge and Lafayette on Sept. 14, just two weeks after we evacuated, and these clinics to this day remain open to serve patients who relocated outside the city.
6. In the fall of 2006, Children's Hospital purchased the former DePaul Hospital and property from the Sisters of Charity. The 12.8 acres and eight buildings located less than a mile from the main campus proved to represent an invaluable opportunity to allow the future expansion of the hospital. The hospital opened inpatient adolescent and child psychiatric units on this campus and leased a building to LSUHC to provide inpatient adult psychiatric care.
9. In the fall of 2007, a partnership between LSUHSC, East Jefferson General Hospital (EJGH) and Children's Hospital brought a cochlear implant program back to the New Orleans area. The implant program was dormant after Hurricane Katrina due to the lack of a medical facility to perform the surgeries.
After a two-year hiatus, cochlear implantation surgery now is being performed on adults at EJGH and on children at Children's Hospital.
10. In the spring of 2008, The Audrey Hepburn Children at Risk Evaluation (CARE) Center and the Child Advocacy Center moved to the Calhoun Campus. By moving them to this location, they became able to provide forensic medicine evaluations in a home-like setting.
11. In November 2008, The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, a partnership between Ronald McDonald House Charities and Children's Hospital, began operating in the seven-parish Greater New Orleans area by offering thousands of children the opportunity to be immunized free of charge through state-funded and community partner grants. The Care Mobile serves as the delivery mechanism for The Greater New Orleans Immunization Network's School Kids Immunization Program (SKIP), which was developed to provide vaccines and educate school-aged children about the importance of vaccinations.
12. In March of 2009, Children's Hospital's parent corporation acquired Touro Infirmary, a large local hospital, creating a two-facility, nonprofit, community-based hospital system.
13. In May of 2009, construction on a 9,456-square-foot PICU was completed. This project moved the existing unit to space on the sixth floor featuring 18 private patient rooms outfitted with cutting-edge technology.
14. The state's only pediatric cardiac intensive care unit opened in October 2009. After Hurricane Katrina, Children's Hospital focused on building The Heart Center into one of the finest pediatric cardiac programs in the South.
Looking to the Future
The growth and expansion of Children's Hospital is at the forefront of our plans to carry out our mission. Our future plans include the upcoming purchase of a helicopter to enhance our 24-hour transport team, and we also are expanding our surgery department to include two additional suites to maximize the care we can provide. We also remain in ongoing dialogue with the state to lease or acquire all or part of the land adjacent to the hospital for future expansion.
Children's Hospital has evolved into a premier comprehensive pediatric medical center. In 2005 we provided medical and surgical care to more than 50,000 children, regardless of their families' ability to pay. That number grew to more than 63,000 in 2009. Serving the needs of children is our number one priority. Children's Hospital has survived the storm.
We remain unyielding in our commitment to continuous improvement in patient care, resolute on educating our future doctors and nurses, unwavering in our dedication to pediatric research, and steadfast in our support of child advocacy. These promises comprise our mission. They are our obligations to our region's children - we can and must do nothing less.
About the Author
Brian T. Landry is vice president and director of marketing at Children's Hospital in New Orleans, and has served in this capacity for more than 25 years. In addition to his marketing duties, his administrative responsibilities include overseeing hospital development, public affairs, volunteer services, the Greater New Orleans Immunization Network, the School Kids Immunization Program, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile Program, the Behavior Health Clinical Liaison Program, and the Parenting Center.
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