Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thank you, New York Times

Though most of the mainstream media ignores Katrina recovery, the New York Times gives it fairly consistent coverage, occassionally even putting the story on the front page. This is the fourth high-profile recovery article the Times has run this month. NPR is the only other MSM outlet I've noticed that comes close to this coverage. Thank you, New York Times. You rock.

From today's Times front page:

New Orleans Recovery Is Slowed by Closed Hospitals
Published: July 24, 2007

NEW ORLEANS — At the tip of Bayou St. John in the Mid-City neighborhood here, the brown and white bulk of Lindy Boggs Medical Center looms behind a chain-link fence. Nineteen people died at the medical center after Hurricane Katrina, and now the hospital itself is dead, sold to developers who plan to replace it with a shopping mall.

On the surrounding streets — Bienville and Canal and Jefferson Davis — lies the wreckage of a once-bustling medical corridor. Doctors’ offices sit empty behind five-foot-high water marks, and nearby clinics wait to be demolished. In back of one medical building, a gaping refrigerator still holds jars of mayonnaise and Mt. Olive Dill Relish.

Harder to see, but just as tangible, people here say, are the other ripple effects of the flood and the closed hospital: workers displaced, houses for sale and, of course, patients forced to seek health care many miles away. If they have returned to New Orleans at all, that is, given the grave wounds to the health care system.

“I’ve been telling people, don’t bring your parents back if they are sick,” said Dr. David A. Myers, an internist who lived and worked in Mid-City before the flood and has moved his home and practice to the suburbs.

Of all the factors blocking the economic revival of New Orleans, the shattered health care system may be the most important — and perhaps the most intractable.

Except for tourism and retailing, health care was the city’s biggest private employer, and it paid much higher wages than hotels or stores. But there are now 16,800 fewer medical jobs than before the storm, down 27 percent, in part because nurses and other workers are in short supply.

Only one of the city’s seven general hospitals is operating at its pre-hurricane level; two more are partially open, and four remain closed. The number of hospital beds in New Orleans has dropped by two-thirds. In the suburbs, half a dozen hospitals in adjacent Jefferson Parish are open — but are packed.

Fixing the city’s health care system “is critical both for the short and the long term,” said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. “Short-term, having confidence that the health care residents need will be available and accessible is vital for folks who are returning,” Mr. Kopplin said. “Long-term, it’s important for employers — and health care is a huge business in New Orleans."

Studies suggest that hundreds of doctors never returned. And some of those who did, especially specialists and young physicians, are leaving, said Dr. Ricardo Febry, president of the Orleans Parish Medical Society, which has lost more than 200 of its 650 members. The exodus has “been a steady trickle,” Dr. Febry said.

The city’s mortality rate appears to have risen sharply in 2006, although state and local officials disagree about the level and persistence of the increase.

With the stress of life in the flood-ravaged city, the limited health care and insurance, the lingering mold and the discomfort of living in trailers, doctors report that the patients they see are often far sicker than those they treated before the storm. And even residents with health insurance can have a difficult time finding someone to treat them.

Government officials and civic leaders are floating plans for the future of the city’s medical system, for a state-of-the-art hospital, for a cutting-edge system to cover the uninsured, even for a “bio-innovation center” that would be an engine for economic growth. The question is what will happen in the meantime, which is likely to be many years long.

“We have to find a way to survive to that point, to provide care, or our city will collapse,” said John J. Finn, president of the Metropolitan Hospital Council of New Orleans.

Waiting for Care

The problems with health care hit hardest on the poor and the newly uninsured, but they also affect doctors and patients, politicians and entrepreneurs, the displaced and the returned — and everyone at any level who has the misfortune to turn up in a jam-packed emergency room.

See the Times for the rest.

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