Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Hurricane Katrina and the Healthcare Infrastructure: A Focus on Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Resiliency

Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Hurricane Katrina and the Healthcare Infrastructure: A Focus on Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Resiliency

Article excerpt

SUMMARY

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina provides a window of opportunity to address a frail and failing healthcare system. Katrina was the rare incident that disrupted the external systems supplying hospitals with key services and resources needed for the organizations to function; increased the number of patients, both present and expected, that required medical care; and affected directly the physical plants of the hospitals, challenging their functionality. Sorting through and gleaning useful lessons to increase the resilience of hospitals for this type of catastrophic incident will take time and will require system-wide public health planning and intervention. In this article, the authors focus on how hospitals prepared for, responded to, and coped with Katrina. They also provide a brief overview of the current situation and the healthcare crisis confronting hospitals and communities in the region affected by Katrina and discuss the impending need to develop disaster-resilient medical and healthcare systems. Planning, access to adequate resources, networking, effective communication and coordination, and training and education of doctors, nurses, technicians, and medical staff are essential in the development of a resilient healthcare infrastructure that will be able to provide the much needed services to populations affected by future disasters.

HURRICANE KATRINA was a catastrophic event (Quarantelli 2006). In its report "The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina," the White House (2006) indicates that this has been "the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history." Hurricane Katrina resulted in the displacement of over one million people, leaving "refugees" scattered throughout the continental United States; destroying about 350,000 houses; resulting in a death toll estimated at about 1,3001; and displacing over 200,000 persons to evacuation centers in at least 18 states. Although the total economic impact of Katrina fluctuates from one source to another, it is estimated that it will surpass $100 billion.2

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was exacerbated by the breach in the levee system in New Orleans, resulting in extensive flooding. Several hours after the hurricane, many people and organizations in New Orleans were actually celebrating, given that the impact of Katrina was not as devastating as predicted (Rodríguez, Trainor, and Quarantelli 2006). However, shortly thereafter the flood waters started rising, resulting in widespread destruction of property and the extensive loss of life. Hospitals and other medical units were particularly hard hit by the floods, resulting in significant problems for health institutions with previous experience managing and responding to disaster events. The Healthcare infrastructure and healthcare services of the area, already ranked as among the poorest in the nation, were all but decimated by Hurricane Katrina. In the following sections, we focus on the impact of this devastating event on the healthcare system and its infrastructure and how hospitals prepared for, responded to, and coped with this disaster. We also provide a brief overview of the current situation and the healthcare crisis confronting hospitals and communities in the affected region, primarily focusing on New Orleans. We conclude this article with a discussion regarding the impending need to develop disaster-resilient medical and healthcare systems.

PREPARING AND RESPONDING TO KATRINA

Rodríguez, Trainor, and Quarantelli (2006) summarize how hospitals prepared for and responded to Hurricane Katrina:

[T]he initial response of hospitals was to react as they had done in the past. They activated their disaster teams of specially designated physicians, nurses, and other key staff members. Less critically ill patients were discharged. Extra supplies of water, food, blood, and medical supplies were stored on scene.... When the hurricane hit the area, the buildings as a whole suffered little physical damage. …

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