Several gates on the Morganza Spillway were unlocked beginning May 14, flooding the livelihoods of central Mississippi Valley farmers and fishermen in order to prevent the river from breaching or overtopping sections of levees in Louisiana's two biggest cities.
However, even before the spillway opened some of its gates many cities in Mississippi, such as Vicksburg, already were predicting historic levels of flooding once the river crests at the end of the week.
Now, displaced residents and families, at record numbers in the hundreds of thousands, will become a new breed of homeless. This group is expected to challenge the hospital systems of both Louisiana and Mississippi in ways not even seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Emergency and medical shelters for the displaced residents are being erected out of harm's way in local churches. Hospitals, nursing homes and personal care homes are being evacuated with the help of the Mississippi and Louisiana departments of health, the Hospital Associations Offices of Emergency Preparedness and local governments.
Even areas such as Memphis have seen their share of the Mississippi River flooding last week, when waters lapped at the door of several hospitals. Hundreds of families have been displaced there as well, causing the number of homeless in Memphis to swell to a record high of 20 percent over the number recorded one year ago.
So Where Do the Hospitals Begin?
Hospitals have enacted their emergency preparedness plans while they examine transfer routes to various other hospitals since many pathways have been cut off by road closures due to floodwaters. Emergency contact numbers of alternate hospitals are being given to physicians and emergency rooms to identify alternative transfer locations.
The National Guard also is being based at hospitals to assist ambulance crews with any emergency calls originating from a flooded area. Due to anticipated prolonged response times in these areas, hospitals know they will need more expeditious acceptance from receiving ERs or hospitals when possible.
But it Doesn't End There.
Hospitals will face enormous difficulty with length of stay (LOS) if temporary housing and other provisions for displaced residents are not made available quickly. With flood waters possibly cresting at 17 feet and above, many residents will remain without permanent shelter for a very long time, causing safe discharge plans to become extremely difficult to execute once they no longer need acute care.
Never mind the effects caring for hundreds of thousands of patients will have on the hospital employees who also may be displaced themselves.
We do not yet know the full effect of this flood of 2011, since the cresting of the waters will not be complete for several days. What we do know is that it will present a national disaster of historic proportions. It will challenge not only the hospital systems of the affected areas but all hospital systems nationally, creating an economic ripple effect never before felt by the healthcare industry.
About the Author
Patricia Furci is currently part-time, In-house Counsel at several hospitals, providing legal services specially addressing inpatient issues, Case Management functions and Guardianship services.
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