USNews: New Orleans’s against-the-odds struggle to care for the infirm Against-the-odds struggle to care for the infirm in New Orleans

On Life Support New Orleans’s against-the-odds struggle to care for the infirm By Nancy Shute 4/24/06 NEW ORLEANS–Peter DeBlieux always pictured himself working in a tent one day. It just "wasn’t in this country." A veteran emergency-room physician, DeBlieux is inside a tent pitched in an abandoned Lord & Taylor store just a few blocks from where he once ran one of the busiest ERs in the United States.That would be New Orleans’s Charity Hospital, but, thanks to Hurricane Katrina, DeBlieux can’t go back there. The flood that followed Katrina knocked out Charity’s electricity and water. Patients and staff spent five grueling days trapped in the hospital in 100-degree heat, rationing drinking water, and hand-squeezing "ambu" bags to keep ventilator patients alive.

That was the easy part, some now say. Seven months later, New Orleans’s healthcare system is floundering, and the fact that the city’s once biggest hospital exists in a 30-bed tent is just one of the most obvious symptoms. When Charity started offering emergency care in a military tent on the convention center parking lot last September, DeBlieux thought he’d be practicing medicine this way for a month, tops. "Seven months out? It’s not OK," he says. "This is the United States of America. This is not a Third World country."

Louisiana’s healthcare isn’t robounding as well as we’d hope. but there are signs of progress here, despite plans, not due to them.


  1. Grunt Doc … this post is one more example … those who are paying attention are being made aware that the situation in New Orleans, and with those who were displaced and have taken refuge in other areas, is not improving.

    Has the government just given up on NO and its displaced multitudes, and doesn’t have the balls to admit it?

    I’ve been following Michael C. Hebert – Journal … a family care physician who lost everything in Katrina, and I’m horrified at the stuff I’ve read.

    I hope we all understand that if the powers that be are doing this to the victims of Katrina, that any one of us slated for the next big disaster is in line for the same treatment.

    Like DeBlieux said “This is the United States of America. This is not a Third World country.” And that makes it so much more unconscionable.

  2. Different circumstances, to be sure, but similar outcome compared with our poor ability to rebuild Iraq. And we don’t have insurgents as an excuse in New Orleans.

    What does it take to rebuild a city — apparently we don’t know.

  3. Jim in Texas says:

    I saw a T-shirt during Madi Grai that said;

    “I’m going to keep drinking until Nagan makes sense”

  4. The article mentions that Charity Hospital’s emergency services were previously located in the convention center. Morial Convention Center’s website lists the associations meeting there this fall, and the latest restoration update states that 245,000 conventioneers are expected this year. Will their only contribution be the price of drinks and dinner in the French Quarter, or will they reflect on the convention center’s recent use as an emergency health care facility and the continuing grim status quo regarding medical care in New Orleans? If each of 245,000 conventioneers contributed just $10 to Charity’s rebuilding fund, $2.45 million dollars would be raised. This doesn’t solve all the problems and doesn’t replace what the government should be doing, but it is a way that individuals can help.

  5. First, I’d like to say I appreciate anyone who blogs about the problems of New Orleans.

    Secondly, I know Peter DeBlieux fairly well (he pronounces his name, more or less, DOUBLE-YOU). Dr. DeBlieux is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary-critical care, and emergency medicine and is one of the most phenomenally talented physicians I have ever sknown. I have never known a doctor who combines such good clinical skills with his degree of communications ability.

    Charity hospital, unfortunately, had serious problems even before the storm. It was an indigent facilty where hardly 25% of patient charges were paid. At one time Charity, which was built for over 2,000 beds, was one of the largest hospitals in the world. By the time of Katrina it was down to about 150 funtioning beds, despite having an incredibly busy ER (close to 100,000 patient visits a year, I think). It was totally dependent on government money to survive. This created a serious problem, because, since there was no moneymaking incentive, the hospital had no reason to update its facility or attract insured patients.

    Charity was basically a medical equivalent of a public housing project. And believe me, it looked like one inside.

    But the poor of New Orleans depended on it mightily. It has to be rebuilt in some fashion but Charity cannot go on as a dumping ground for unwanted patients. Until the people who run Charity create a facility that can attract a payor mix that at least allows them to make ends meet, the rebuilding of the old facility is a non-starter.