Most troubled New Orleans hospital finally gets some help

Friday, September 2nd 2005, 10:31 am
By: News On 6

Evacuations resumed Friday at some of New Orleans' most troubled hospitals where desperate doctors were being forced to make tough choices about which patients got dwindling supplies of food, water and medicines.

Rescuers finally made it into Charity Hospital, the largest public hospital and trauma center in the city, where gunshots prevented efforts on Thursday to evacuate more than 250 patients.

``We moved all of the babies out of Charity this morning,'' said Keith Simon, spokesman for Acadian Ambulance Service Inc.

Richard Zuschlag, the ambulance company's president, said the military was handling the evacuation of Charity and other hospitals in the flooded downtown.

``Our morgue at Big Charity is full and it is under water,'' said Don Smithburg, CEO of the LSU hospital system, which oversees the two public hospitals.

He said the morgue had 12 bodies, and another five were stacked in a stairwell _ in both cases under water. Other bodies were in other parts of the hospital.

As for the doctors and nurses: ``Some of them are on the brink of unable to cope any longer. We just can't get our people out fast enough.''

He said some areas are out of food and water. ``Some of my staff are giving each other intravenous fluids,'' Smithburg said. ``We have to get them out of today.''

Relatives of Dr. L. Lee Hamm, chairman of medicine at Tulane University, also reported that they received a text message from him around midday Friday, confirming that evacuations were taking place at Charity Hospital.

``We're starting to make some headway,'' said Knox Andress, an emergency room nurse in Shreveport, La., who is helping coordinate relocation efforts.

He and others remained most concerned about University Hospital, where about 500 family and staff members joined 110 very ill patients and hundreds of others from the general community needing evacuation.

Andress and others had lost emergency radio communications with that hospital.

Paula Dees of Tallahassee, Fla., said her father, Dr. Oscar Ballester, called her early Friday morning from University, where he and his wife, Dr. Gabriela Ballester, have been working since Saturday.

``They're just begging for help,'' Dees said. ``They're rationed a liter of water a day and have minimal food. He keeps saying, 'They forgot about us.'''

Her father also is a diabetic and has only about a day's supply of insulin left, she said.

Doctors at both Charity and University had called The Associated Press on Thursday, pleading for help.

Smithburg said evacuation resumed Friday at Charity after state police stepped up their protection. But action was suspended again later in the day, after many patients and hospital employees got out. It was unclear how many people remained behind, including patients' relatives.

Smithburg said sick newborns and 10 healthy babies had been evacuated.

``The evacuation has been called off again and we are seeking additional security presence so that we can continue the evacuation'' of personnel, Smithburg said.