Life five years after Katrina
Storm changed costs, dynamics of providing care
Healthcare providers in the nation’s Gulf Coast may spend some time this week answering questions for Hurricane Katrina retrospectives such as this one. But they will be busier renovating facilities, appealing for more federal assistance, and managing the effects of health reform, more recent disasters and strapped state budgets—all during hurricane season.
As the fifth anniversary of one of Ameri- ca’s worst natural disaster nears, officials at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in Baton Rouge are looking beyond Aug. 29 to another date on the calendar: Sept. 30, the last day of a three-year, $100 million grant from the federal government that has created a primary-care clinic system in the state.
Meanwhile, executives at the Louisiana State University Health Care Services division are eager to see what will result from an Aug. 25 meeting of the New Orleans Academic Medical Center Initial Corporation Board, the 501(c)(3) governing body that will oversee the $1.2 billion, 424-bed academic medical center expected to open in 2014. LSU holds four seats on the 11-member board, which is expected to identify four non-permanent members this week.
And in Mississippi, Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis—which incurred more than $40 million in damage from Katrina— advertised for bids last week to reconstruct the hospital’s first floor in a $24 million renovation project approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Katrina changed the cost of providing care, especially in the context of staffing facilities and keeping beds open to serve the public, said Mark Peters, CEO of East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, La., which incurred about $71 million in costs directly related to the storm. “The cost of that was driven up significantly and has remained elevated,” Peters said.
Peters also cited the permanent closure of the Louisiana State University Health System’s Charity Hospital, which had been the primary source of healthcare for the region’s uninsured population.
Since the hurricane, LSU has gone from providing the majority of services at a former Lord and Taylor department store (Aug. 21, 2006, p. 6) to its University Hospital, an interim facility the system is using until the new academic medical center opens.
Roxane Townsend, CEO of the LSU Health Care Services division, said the new facility will create great opportunities, not only for patients to receive care, but for faculty to conduct research. The greatest challenge the system faces today, Townsend said, is to get through the four years before the academic medical center is expected to open, during a time when state funds are short and more people are out of work, uninsured and in need of healthcare.
Top photo shows the flooding of Hancock Medical Center (seen today at left) in Bay St. Louis, Miss., after Katrina.