Marooned doctors plead ‘Please help us’

This is completely unacceptable, and those responsible need to be dealt with harshly.  And I’m not advocating handcuffs, or jail time.

Dr. McSwain, quoted in the article, is one of the dieties of early trauma research.

Unruly crowds disrupt, prevent hospital evacuations

(AP) — Doctors at two desperately
crippled hospitals in New Orleans called The Associated Press Thursday
morning pleading for rescue, saying they were nearly out of food and
power and had been forced to move patients to higher floors to escape

"We have been trying to call the mayor’s office, we
have been trying to call the governor’s office … we have tried to use
any inside pressure we can. We are turning to you. Please help us,"
said Dr. Norman McSwain, chief of trauma surgery at Charity Hospital,
the largest of two public hospitals.

Charity is across the street
from Tulane University Medical Center, a private facility that has
almost completed evacuating more than 1,000 patients and family
members, he said.

No such public resources are available for
Charity, which has about 250 patients, or University Hospital several
blocks away, which has about 110 patients.

"We need coordinated help from the government," McSwain said.

He described horrific conditions. (Watch a report on the scenes of death and despair on the streets of New Orleans — 4:36)

is no food in Charity Hospital. They’re eating fruit bowl punch and
that’s all they’ve got to eat. There’s minimal water," McSwain said.

of their power is out. Much of the hospital is dark. The ICU (intensive
care unit) is on the 12th floor, so the physicians and nurses are
having to walk up floors to see the patients."

Dr. Lee Hamm,
chairman of medicine at Tulane University, said he took a canoe from
there to the two public hospitals, where he also works, to check

"The physicians and nurses are doing an incredible
job, but there are patients laying on stretchers on the floor, the
halls were dark, the stairwells are dark. Of course, there’s no
elevators. There’s no communication with the outside world," he said.

afraid that somehow these two hospitals have been left off … that
somehow somebody has either forgotten it or ignored it or something,
because there is no evidence anything is being done."

Hamm said
there was relief Wednesday as word traveled throughout University
Hospital that the National Guard was coming to evacuate them, but the
rescue never materialized.

"You can imagine how demoralizing that was," he said.

Throughout the entire city, the death, destruction and depravity deepened even as the hurricane waters leveled off.

are trying to evacuate," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan,
spokesman at the city emergency operations center. "At every one of
them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are
shooting at them. There are people just taking pot shots at police and
at helicopters, telling them, ‘You better come get my family."’

Richard Zuschlag, president of Acadian Ambulance Service Inc., described the chaos at a suburban hospital.

tried to airlift supplies into Kenner Memorial Hospital late last
evening and were confronted by an unruly crowd with guns, and the
pilots refused to land," he said.

"My medics were crying,
screaming for help. When we tried to land at Kenner, my pilots got
scared because 100 people were on the helipad and some of them had
guns. He was frightened and would not land."

Zuschlag said 65
patients brought to the roof of another city hospital, Touro Infirmary,
for evacuation Wednesday night spent the night there. The hospital’s
generator and backup generator had failed, and doctors decided it was
safer to keep everyone on the roof than carry fragile patients back

"The hospital was so hot that with no rain or anything, they were better off in the fresh air on the roof," he said.

When patients have been evacuated, where to take them becomes the next big decision.

having to make strategic decisions about where to send people literally
in midair," said John Matessino, president of the Louisiana Hospital
Association. "It’s a very difficult thing to prioritize when they’re
all a priority."

Knox Andress, an emergency nurse who is regional
coordinator for a federal emergency preparedness grant covering the
state, said it’s impossible to underestimate the critical role
hospitals are playing for anyone left in the city.

running out of their medications, they’re running out of money. They’re
having social issues and where do they go? They go to the hospital. The
hospital is the backbone of the community because the lights are always
on," he said.

When hospitals can’t take care of people and the rescuers need rescued, there’s no social fabric left, Andress said.

Hospitals weren’t the only facilities with troubles.

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who has been working with search and rescue,
confirmed that 30 people died at a nursing home in St. Bernard Parish
and 30 others were being evacuated. He did not give any further details.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

via FFM, who’s been all over the medical aspects (by email).


  1. I agree with you that these conditions are unacceptable. The Feds need to get their act together. New Orleans should be completely evacuated immediately. George Bush needs to get 20,000 National Guardsmen/ regular military down there within the next 24 hours and clear the place out. Anyone who shoots at military/police forces or otherwise interferes with evacuation efforts should get the death penalty, or at the very least life imprisonment.

  2. UMMM…fellahs they knew they were in a hurricane area….so why no decent generators etc…?

    And why didn’t they evacuate non critical patients?

    I mean, when I was in Minnesota for the Grand Forks flood, we got non critical patients from both those areas before the levy broke and put Grand Forks under water…

    You are EMS…what is YOUR hospital’s plan if the area is hit with floods and tornadoes and the lights and water supply goes out? Do you all bring in your personal Coleman generators to light the ER?
    Your camping water purifier? Or do you have a plan?

  3. William Barrett MD says:

    Before the hurricane hit,FEMA was stating that they had been planning for this for over 3 years. I suspect as usual the were alot of high priced consultants and a useless document. There were clearly inadequate transport for evacuation before or after the hurricane. Why don’t we see military assets like assault craft in the flooded streets,instead we see woman carring dehydrated or dead babies .
    There are no adequate communication.Why.This should have been goal one of the planning process. Didn’t anybody learn anything from Grenada.
    We aren’t on a war footing for Iraq,but they should be for NOLA Commandeer adequate generators and whatever is needed to open up the docks which are apparently undamaged.
    I watched what can only be described as a smarmy FEMA administrator say things were going well,and hospitals were all evacuated.Maybe he should watch cnn and get some real information.
    The peopleof NOLA can’t wait for days until FEMA figures out what to do.

  4. To answer tioedong: It would be a nice wish that all the non-critical patients be evacuated prior to the event. One question: What hospital is sitting around half-empty waiting to accept overflow from another hospital? You think they keep staff on call in case the uninsured patients at Charity need a place to be cared for? Every hospital I know has a daily crisis of finding beds for the deluge of sick and elderly that come into the Emergency Departments in this country. Sometimes in the midst of the weekly “Monday Night Mania” where I work, with 12 hour waits, and stretchers lining the halls, I often think “what if we had a real crisis?

  5. The whole situation is sickening. There is absolutely no leadership being shown. The President is flicking a couple of National Guard groups down to NOLA to stop the looting. How about we not worry about the plasma tv that some guy is stealing and get the people out of there. He can’t use it anyway! What good is it to shoot some woman stealing some shoes?
    I am so upset about this that I know my writing is awful. Sorry.
    Some of the people there are going quite insane. I wish they would stop for a minute and help one another, but they have been living in Hell for days. They have no hope! There is no communication available and for all they know, they are going to be left to die.
    The whole evacuation conversation is useless. How many times have the forcasters predicted horrible disasters only to have people lock up and leave and then nothing happens. People either didn’t or couldn’t evacuate.
    The problem now is not why didn’t they go, why didn’t they have a plan, but how do we help them?
    I wish I had some answers.