Emergency care in the wake of Katrina

Carlton
Carlton

If there was a good news story about Hurricane Katrina, it was the medical response to the disaster, said Paul K. Carlton Jr., M.D., director of the Office of Homeland Security of the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center. Speaking at the Yale New Haven International Congress on Disaster Medicine and Emergency Management in September, Carlton described how emergency “surge” hospitals mobilized to handle thousands of patients in Baton Rouge.

“Your worst nightmare is to lose an entire medical network, and that is what happened in Katrina,” said Carlton, a proponent of the surge concept, in which hospitals expand facilities or open new ones in emergencies. Within days, he said, health and disaster teams had set up four surge hospitals in Baton Rouge, including one at a former Kmart store that had been closed for 10 years. “It was filthy,” Carlton said. Crews found portable air-conditioning units, got power to the building, bought portable toilets and converted the big-box store into a 1,000-bed hospital.

Driving the medical teams, Carlton said, was a basic principle: “We will not break trust with our patients.”