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Emerging from the chaos: the LSU Health Sciences Center.

As the eye of Hurricane Katrina came ashore thirty-five miles east-northeast of New Orleans, poorly designed flood walls failed, allowing water to pour through the breaches and flood 80 percent of the city. Our campuses, our homes, and our city were inundated, as the steadily deepening and stagnating water washed away life as we knew it. LSU Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) in New Orleans, comprising the six professional health schools that educate 70 percent of Louisiana's physicians and 75 percent of its dentists along with nurses, allied health professionals, public health professionals, and research scientists, found itself in unprecedented circumstances, facing challenges never before experienced in this country.

The months since August 29, 2005, have held both tragedy and triumph. Our heroic faculty endured unimaginable conditions for many days, keeping their patients alive without power, running water, and even the most basic medical resources in hospitals with no life support. Others cared for evacuated patients in temporary medical-operation staging areas planned by LSUHSC faculty, staff, and others, not knowing the fate of their homes, property, and loved ones. Still others worked to resurrect our educational enterprise, achieving a feat some said was impossible--essentially rebuilding six health-professional schools from scratch. Faculty, staff, and students were scattered throughout the country, and communications were crippled. We had no classrooms, textbooks, clothing, or housing. Seven of our teaching hospitals were closed, and other clinical sites were under water, too.

The only New Orleans medical school and health sciences center to remain intact in the state, we kept not only our educational commitment to our students but also our commitment to Louisiana's health. As the source of the majority of Louisiana's health-care professionals, we were able to safeguard immediate access to care and future access as well by reestablishing our academic programs. A testament to the fortitude of faculty and student alike, attendance was 98 percent on September 26, 2005, the day classes resumed in borrowed space in Baton Rouge--four short weeks after the devastation. With lost revenue streams and property damage of more than $200 million, we were forced to downsize by about half, including the loss of about 20 percent of our faculty and about $20 million in research funding.

ADAPTING TO THE DEVASTATION

Through indescribably difficult circumstances, shining examples of character and creativity emerged. It is amazing how much can be done with precious little. A movie theater became lecture rooms. A state-of-the-art dental-student clinic was built next to a cow pasture. A Baltic ferry with overnight accommodations became housing for hundreds for an academic year. A field hospital was erected in a K-Mart parking lot. A civilian emergency tent was integrated, for the first time, into a Combat Support Hospital. Three-phase power and running water were established in a matter of hours in a bare parking lot for a mobile hospital, even if the water was delivered via hose from a fire hydrant. An LSUHSC physician became medical director of a Navy Hospital ship. And a department store was converted into an emergency room.

Immediately after the storm, we began working to rebuild the health care infrastructure. Our faculty opened the first outpatient clinic in our stricken city and delivered care in partnership with local, state, and federal health concerns. We worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Public Health Service, the City, the State, and others to develop a Structure to meet immediate needs as well as longer term solutions.

GOING HOME

Despite continuing challenges, both professional and personal, we are well along the road to recovery. With the exception of the dental school, which had to remain in Baton Rouge for another year, our schools and research enterprises began a phased return home in January of 2006. Our students graduated on time as scheduled. Enrollment is now on par with pre-Katrina numbers. Our graduate medical education programs are getting back to their pre-Katrina strength. The value of our research enterprise is about $150 million, and our faculty were awarded $67.1 million in new grants in 2006. We are investing in faculty recruitment and retention, although replenishing these invaluable human resources has never been more challenging. New Orleans's recovery is far from complete. We are at about half of our pre-Katrina number of hospital beds and physicians, and the nursing shortage is acute. And other issues must be solved involving living conditions, housing, and the perception of crime. Although some are still leaving, people also are coming back. We are even attracting some who have no ties to New Orleans, both faculty and residents. These dedicated individuals have a pioneering spirit and a strong desire to help, to be part of history.

Temporary repairs to our facilities continue, and we now occupy most of our buildings. Although we are still unable to use the medical school building connected to the shuttered Charity Hospital as well as the first floors of our other buildings, the LSU Interim Hospital (University Hospital) began accepting patients in November 2006, and the trauma center moved back in February 2007. Planning includes a new university hospital in partnership with the Veterans Administration. Our School of Dentistry will return home this summer.

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Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." We are building back smarter, better, and with a heightened strength of purpose forged through the knowledge that we have been tested and we have triumphed.

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Larry H. Hollier, MD

Larry H. Hollier, MD. is the chancellor of LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and dean of the LSU School of Medicine. Dr. Hollier is the author of more than three hundred articles in the medical literature and serves on the editorial boards of thirteen surgical journals. He lectures widely and maintains an active practice of vascular and endovascular surgery
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Title Annotation:Surviving the Storm
Author:Hollier, Larry H.
Publication:Phi Kappa Phi Forum
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
Words:979
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