Katrina Survivors Contemplate Today's New Orleans

Kevin Jordan, chief of medical affairs for Touro Infirmary Hospital, says health care in New Orleans hasn't improved since Hurricane Katrina struck in late August 2005. And Leigh Morrow is still wondering if it's time to leave the city for good.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush visits New Orleans today. For the next several minutes, we'll do the same. We've called back two people we first met in New Orleans shortly after the floodwaters receded in 2005. One is a doctor who kept working as the first residents returned.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Dr. KEVIN JORDAN (Chief of Medical Affairs, Touro Infirmary Hospital): And we're seeing what you expect. You would expect some respiratory ailments from folks going to their homes and dealing with the mold and the dust and the guck. We're seeing bumps and abrasions from people trying to move things. And we've seen a couple of folks fall off their roofs and had injuries that we had to treat, and then a couple of folks we had to transfer out as a result of that.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Dr. Kevin Jordan was working in the city's only emergency room at Touro Infirmary Hospital, the only one that remained open.

Dr. Jordan, welcome back to the program.

Dr. JORDAN: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: How much has changed since 2005 when it comes to hospital care available in New Orleans?

Dr. JORDAN: Well, actually, it's a tale of two cities, really. We've had a couple of other hospitals stand up partially, but Touro is still the only full service hospital in the entire New Orleans Parish area.

INSKEEP: Were a year and a half later and you're still the only full service hospital in Orleans Parish?

Dr. JORDAN: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Now I guess about half the population of New Orleans, give or take, has come back. How about the hospital beds? Do you half the hospital beds back?

Dr. JORDAN: Well, with regard to the population, that really depends upon who you believe. It's estimated that about 190,000 to 195,000 folks actually sleep in the city, being a permanent measure. If you talk about hospital beds, prior to Katrina, we had about 5,000 beds. As of last week, we had roughly 1,500 beds. So you can see that's quite a bit below the half mark.

INSKEEP: Is there something that is preventing hospitals from reopening, other than the obvious problem of water damage?

Dr. JORDAN: Well, remember that you've got to have certain things to support people, since people take care of people. For example, you've got to have housing for folks. You've got to have schools, for example, as folks move back. You've got to have community infrastructure to attract healthcare providers back into an area so that you can then provide services.

INSKEEP: Is that affecting even Touro, which has stayed open all this time? You don't have enough doctors available.

Dr. JORDAN: Well, it's not a question of the doctors. It's about the nurses, the nurse's aides. It's about the lab techs. Those folks that provide skilled technical labor. That's what we need. And yes, is it affecting Touro? You bet. Our labor costs are up two and a half times - up to three times what they were prior to the storm.

INSKEEP: Do people seem to feel that the situation is moving in the right direction?

Dr. JORDAN: I guess the short answer to that is no. We have a tremendous and had a tremendous opportunity that really has never been seen before in the United States. And that is to take a health care system that was completely decimated and start with a blank canvass and repaint that canvas the way an ideal system should be. Unfortunately, we're 18 months out and we're still talking about how it's to be done. So there's an incredible sense of frustration. We just can't seem to get where we need to get to get it done.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask - since the storm, you've had a mayor's election in New Orleans.

Dr. JORDAN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: And then of course you had the fall elections for Congress and so forth, as everybody did. Did health care in New Orleans come up in any of the campaigns in the last year or so?

Dr. JORDAN: Not to my recollection. And it's now on the radar; it's being discussed. But one can talk to the cows to come home, it's a matter of having a plan and moving forward. And we just haven't quite gotten there yet.

INSKEEP: We've been listening to Dr. Kevin Jordan. He's the chief medical officer at Touro Infirmary Hospital in New Orleans.

Dr. Jordan, good to talk with you again.

Dr. JORDAN: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: And let's check in with another person we met just after the flood. We found Leigh Morrow in October 2005. She'd just come out of church with her husband and their baby. The Morrow's home survived but they were considering whether to leave.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

Ms. LEIGH MORROW: We don't know if we're going to stay forever.

Mr. CHAD MORROW: I think it might be different if we didn't have a 3-month-old. But, you know, it would be hard to live here right now with emergency rooms being a hard place to go to. And we love the city, but it's going to be a while until it gets back to normal.

INSKEEP: That was October 2005. This week, Leigh Morrow says she's less concerned about hospitals. She is worried about the schools and crime, and what's worst is that she's lost friends.

Ms. MORROW: Some has moved away and some have - there've been breaches in friendship because we were put in different circumstances directly following the storm, you know, where they have lost everything and we hadn't. And we had different perspectives on life from then on. And all I can say is, you know, we lost some friends over it, and that was probably the hardest thing, especially for my husband.

INSKEEP: And yet as President Bush prepares to visit New Orleans today, Leigh and Chad Morrow are still there.

Ms. MORROW: New Orleans just gets in your blood. And when you're born and raised here, it's hard to leave. There's no way to describe it. It's just hard to really pull the trigger and go.

INSKEEP: And for the Morrows, staying in New Orleans is the best decision for now.

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