Hospital Resources Stretched to the Breaking Point

Medical facilities are scrambling to help the victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Alex Chadwick talks about the crisis with Randy Roig, medical director for the North Oaks Comprehensive Medical Rehabilitation Unit in Hammond, La., who says hospitals are running out of supplies and may be unable to treat more patients.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Hospitals throughout the Gulf Coast region are running on generators, which are running out of fuel. Food and water supplies are low, also. Doctors are nurses are sleeping on floors or in closets or anywhere they can. Dr. Randy Roig is medical director at North Oaks Rehabilitation Hospital in Hammond, Louisiana, that's just north of Lake Pontchartrain. We spoke earlier.

Dr. Roig, where are you?

Dr. RANDY ROIG (Medical Director, North Oaks Rehabilitation Hospital): I'm in Hammond, Louisiana, that's where the hospital is. I actually--my home is in Mandeville, Louisiana, just north of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. And then I have a second home in New Orleans in the French Quarter; it's actually Bourbon Street.

CHADWICK: Do you have any idea what's happened to that place?

Dr. ROIG: Well, I was quite happy yesterday early because I was told that the French Quarter was more or less completely spared, miraculously, one of the only areas. But unfortunately, there was a levee break and now I understand the water is rising and has continued to rise. That's the economic lifeblood of the city and it's our heritage. And as horrifying, absolutely horrifying, as everything else has been, I think we were all hopeful that that might be spared, but now it looks like that's going to take some water, as well.

CHADWICK: Well, that's got to be a big concern for you, but you're also a doctor working at this North Oaks Rehabilitation Hospital in Hammond, Louisiana. What's the situation there?

Dr. ROIG: Well, it's not easy right now. And unfortunately, we lost power almost immediately and we still don't have power. We're on generators, but we have no air conditioning, which is very difficult in Louisiana. It's about--I'd say it's between 85 and 90 degrees in this hospital right now. We do have food, but I think we need to be reprovisioned now, and transportation's quite difficult around here.

CHADWICK: How many patients do you have there in the hospital, and what's happening to them?

Dr. ROIG: Oh, well, we have, I guess, right now about 40 patients total, and they're fairing fairly well. What really concerns me, which breaks my heart, is we do have some extra beds but we don't have the provisions or the staff to take evacuees just because of our electricity situation and our food situation and our staffing situation. The hospitals in New Orleans are in dire straits right now. The water's rising, they worried it's going to hit the generators, which are on the second floor, and they have ventilator patients. You know, if the generators go out, then that's it. So I know they've been searching desperately. The problem is that there are so many--you know, New Orleans is the biggest city in the region, and there just aren't facilities nearby that can easily accept all these evacuees.

CHADWICK: Dr. Roig, I know this is a difficult thing to think about, but can you really imagine New Orleans coming back?

Dr. ROIG: Oh, you know, that, of course--you know, as I was evacuating my own personal self, you know, you start thinking about your papers, then your valuables, then your basic needs--`Do I have enough toothpaste?'--and then it hits you, is--`Will the social fabric, will the economic lifeblood come back to New Orleans?'

Unfortunately for me, my family was through this with Hurricane Betsy, which, admittedly, was not nearly as bad, but we had six feet of water in our house then. And it takes weeks--some people are now saying it's going to take months--to get the water out because our pumps are submerged. We're going to have to have people come from outside and pump the water out. But once that happens, people pull together. You rip the Sheetrock out of your house, the flooring, the electrical wiring, and you just start over. It's not easy, it's going to take years, but the Big Easy has a spirit about it. I'm confident we'll come back. It's just going to take a long time.

CHADWICK: Randy Roig's medical director at North Oaks Rehabilitation Hospital in Hammond, Louisiana.

Dr. Roig, thank you and good luck.

Dr. ROIG: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And, listeners, there is a map detailing the hardest-hit areas of the Gulf Coast, plus links to aid agencies where you can donate your time or money to help. Just go to npr.org.

NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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