NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting live today from Le Chat Noir Nightclub in New Orleans.
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CONAN: Last year, Katrina ripped into the Gulf Coast in August at the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. It devastated this city; killed more than 1500 people, and caused some $80 billion in damage. A week from today, the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season begins. People in New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast will watch the skies and the forecast with new eyes.
After the hard lessons of Katrina, we're in New Orleans to ask people how they're preparing, mentally and physically, for the challenges in the next six months. If you're listening across the country and wonder how people are getting ready, what they've learned, what they would do differently this time around, give us a call. If you're here in the audience in New Orleans, are you ready?
Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And the email address is email@example.com.
And let me begin by introducing Gwen Thompkins, a senior editor at National Public Radio and a New Orleans native. You may remember an exceptional series of reports she did on WEEKEND EDITION-SATURDAY about her hometown.
And Gwen, it's nice to have you on the program.
GWEN THOMPKINS reporting:
Thank you, Neal. It's nice to be here.
CONAN: Just being in this city the last couple of days, it somehow seems as if the critical mass of a city, the bustle, the traffic, it doesn't seem to be here yet.
THOMPKINS: Well, in certain parts of the city that's definitely true. I mean, the city in many ways has been crippled. In large part, because so many areas are silent, so many areas are quiet and awfully dark at night. There are other areas, of course, of the city where the city is really making its big stand. I mean Uptown, New Orleans, the French Quarter, the Central Business District; you do see hustle and bustle.
I was actually sitting in a traffic jam the other day. And I thought to myself, oh, my gosh. I'm at a traffic jam. This is so exciting.
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THOMPKINS: And because, you know, in the months since Katrina, we haven't seen very many of those except on the highways. You know...
THOMPKINS: ...on the I-10 headed out of the city. And that's just a sad sight to see. But the thing that I've been thinking about in terms of where the city stands, and where the hustle is, where the bustle is, and where the quiet is. I've come to one thought and it happened to me this morning. So it was in good time for the program. And that is that as New Orleanians, I think that people here have to learn not to be afraid of the dark.
And when you drive the streets at night, particularly on the highway because the I-10 just cuts right through New Orleans, going east to west or west to east, whichever you like. And it can be a very emotionally draining experience when you look to your right and you see lit areas, lit neighborhoods. You see streetlights and you see cars. And then you look over these vast swaths of land where people use to be, all your neighbors use to be and your friends. And it's absolutely dark.
And that is a shocking feeling when you first experience it. And it is something that haunts you in many ways. But I think that over the months, what we're learning is how not to be afraid of this darkness. And how to feel optimistic that there will be light again in these areas, and our neighbors will be back.
CONAN: We're asking Gwen to help us out in my ignorance of local affairs, by asking some questions during the program.
But let me introduce now Karen Desalvo, Chief of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Tulane University. Since the hurricane, she's been special assistant to the university president for Public Medical Services.
And welcome. Thanks very much for coming down today.
Dr. KAREN DESALVO (Chief of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Tulane University): Oh, thank you all for coming down.
CONAN: Medical infrastructure in New Orleans after Katrina hit was pretty slim. I think that's a nice way to character...
Dr. DESALVO: One would be an exaggeration, yeah.
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CONAN: As much as you prepared, you were very hard hit. So what are you doing differently this time?
Dr. DESALVO: Boy, there's a lot that's changed in the last nine months for us. I think one of the big lessons we've learned is that healthcare is a team sport. And the team is not just - certainly the patient and the physician, but it's also public-private partnerships. And it also includes social services agencies. And I think last year we didn't pay enough attention to that. And we were thinking about evacuating and then restoring services afterwards.
Dr. DESALVO: We've come together in a network now, through necessity, frankly, after the storm to help each other and prop each other up. And those relationships, I think, will carry us far, hopefully, without the need for another hurricane, but in other ways, because we have created a new framework for healthcare in the city, as a result of that tragedy.
And that will help us in the coming year, as we think about how to get people out of the city, who maybe don't have access to their own transportation. And how we set up services if there is some sort of event immediately afterwards.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. You say it's a team sport. It is also a competitive sport. All the members of the team are not always on the same team.
Dr. DESALVO: Well, that's been a big trick, no doubt. And, I think, historically we've thought about competing on venues that maybe aren't really the most productive for patients. Competing for things like service and quality, and patient centeredness. And that's really what we're going after now. And not everybody wants the same thing from a health system; we're learning that as well. And so, the truth is that to get out of this...
Dr. DESALVO: ...we have to do it together. And we know that.
THOMPKINS: May I ask a quick question, actually? Dr. Desalvo, one thing that I've always wondered in the months since Katrina is, if something were to happen to me, you know, if I were to be in a car accident or a snake would bite me. Or I don't know. A bad mosquito...
Dr. DESALVO: Alligator.
THOMPKINS: ...or a very mean alligator, exactly. I mean, what are the options in New Orleans today.
Dr. DESALVO: So, today is certainly better than yesterday, and two months ago, and nine months ago. We've started in October with - or in September, sorry, with sort of tents and card tables, and ice chests for vaccines. We've evolved into having buildings. Now we have hospitals actually open in Orleans Parish and also in the ring of suburbs around. So there is care available for trauma and for chronic care and for acute care. It's very backlogged.
And the reason that that system, that you read quite often, is backlogged in the hospital setting and the emergency room is really kind of multiple things. 0ne is that we don't have a very strong primary care infrastructure yet. We've lost what was our mostly hospital-based systems. They were wiped out. And we've been recreating that in neighborhoods to be more patient-centric.
But that's still not there. So people are - if you have heart failure, you might land in the emergency room instead of your doctor's office to get treated. That's one problem.
We have had a big surge in mental health issues in the state, in the city in particular. And so we have people who are having now post-traumatic stress disorder depression, exacerbations of chronic psychiatric diseases and behavioral health problems, like drinking, et cetera. So that's clogging the system.
And then, you know, we lost nursing homes and aftercare places. So once you get in the hospital, finding a place for you to get discharged has been challenging. I mean, many of these people are homeless.
THOMPKINS: Do you have any advice for people, for instance, in the upcoming hurricane season of what to do with your medical history; what to do with your materials; what to do with your prescriptions? How to - you know, how to keep hold of those things no matter where you might be.
Dr. DESALVO: So, one of the key pieces we've been working in the city in particular, since the storm, is having electronic health records. For folks who have evacuated and needed to know their banking records, most of them just went online and got them. It wasn't this big challenge. Unfortunately, we didn't have that great of a structure for that, as in most places in the country. What - we have evolved, even in the last few months, is that there's been a system set up by the city to get patients to put their medical record information, their chronic diseases or meds, on a little thumb drive. And so some folks have that. Other health systems have been very aggressive about backing up their servers, so there are some big systems that already have electronic records.
And then the safety net clinics that have cropped up in the neighborhoods, as part of that federated network, we have all agreed that we're using electronic health records. We're rolling them out as fast as we can. We hope to have, in those neighborhood clinics, electronic health records by July. So anyone receiving care there will have that as a backup mechanism for people.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And, again, if you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's listen to Jennifer, Jennifer calling us from Broward in Florida.
JENNIFER (Caller): Yes, thanks(ph). I was thinking - my first memory, as a child, of hurricane season, was shopping for supplies when Hurricane Andrew threatened. And I was remembering that when we were shopping, there were many other people shopping for the Dolphins game that weekend. And the hurricane came and went and the aftermath was terrific, it was horrible.
And after three or four years, it seems as if we went back to the same routine, of waiting until the storm threatened or until after to try to get the supplies. I wonder if any of the panelists can speak to what the plans are in the Gulf area, to keep that awareness up so that, you know, the citizens don't lapse back into that pattern of waiting until the last minute. You know, keeping hurricane preparedness in mind before it becomes an issue.
CONAN: Gwen, it seems, at least this year in New Orleans, that may not be so much of a problem. A lot of people I talk to say, first cloudy day in June, I'm out of here.
THOMPKINS: You're absolutely right…
JENNIFER: Because that's how it was down here for the first maybe three or four years after Andrew, but you know, then it slips back into…
CONAN: Over time…
JENNIFER: …the backburner.
CONAN: …that's going to be a problem, isn't it - Gwen?
JENNIFER: Is there any plan for that?
THOMPKINS: Well, over time, it's sort of early to say. I think the caller's question is absolutely on target in the sense that it is very easy for - you know, it's very easy for people to be lulled back into a sense of complacency. But I think that this event has changed New Orleans to such a degree and has displaced so many people, and even if your house was saved through some miracle, even if you're still living in the same place where you lived in July of last year, you know, it will be some time before you will be able to fall back into a sense of complacency simply because when you walk out your door, it surrounds you.
This rebuilding process will take years upon years upon years to complete. And it would be foolhardy beyond the regular pale of foolhardiness to assume that nature will be quiet and calm for the - in the upcoming years.
THOMPKINS: We just have no indication that we're going to have quiet hurricane seasons from now on.
CONAN: Dr. Desalvo?
Dr. DESALVO: Well, I agree completely with what Gwen said. We've had a life-changing event here. It changed our culture. We have pre-Katrina, post-Katrina, we have a whole new lexicon. That's part of it, but truly, that will probably wane.
From the health systems standpoint, we know certainly that what we have to do is change regulations and policies to ensure that people are safe. And we've been working on that very aggressively for the last nine months at the state and federal and local level, to ensure that we have proper backup mechanisms, generators, et cetera, proper policies in place. And not just one policy, but multiple backups, that's certainly where you get into trouble in situations, so that the plan, ultimately, is going to be able to fall in place.
CONAN: Jennifer, thanks very much for the call.
JENNIFER: Thank you.
CONAN: We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll have more of your calls as we discuss preparations for another hurricane season here in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. If you'd like to join us, the number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. You can also join us by e-mail, the address, email@example.com.
I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting live from New Orleans. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan live from Le Chat Noir in New Orleans.
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CONAN: We're talking today about preparation. The Atlantic hurricane season begins a week from today. Many businesses and residents are still recovering from the devastation of the last hurricane season. Many will never recover.
What does readiness mean when you've only just gotten back on your feet? Give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow our conversation online at our Web site, npr.org. We have an interactive map of New Orleans where you can see a snapshot of reconstruction across the city.
Let me introduce our guests. With me here, from WEEKEND EDITION-SATURDAY, is Gwen Thompkins; and Dr. Karen Desalvo, who's Chief of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Tulane University and with us here at the Le Chat Noir. Marvalene Hughes is the President of Dillard University. It's nice to have you on the program as well, welcome.
Dr. MARVALENE HUGHES (President, Dillard University): Thank you.
CONAN: Dr. Hughes, Dillard is not even back on its campus yet. As I understand it, your students are all working and studying out of a Holiday Inn.
Dr. HUGHES: Well, actually, we are at the Hilton Riverside Hotel.
CONAN: The Hilton, excuse me.
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Dr. HUGHES: Right.
CONAN: Sorry to get the plug wrong.
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Dr. HUGHES: And we deliberately decided that we wanted to come back to New Orleans, even though we could not come to our campus. Our campus was actually submerged in water for three to four weeks with - from six to 10 feet of water in every single building except one. So, naturally, that has meant a lot of recovery efforts on the part of those involved, in returning to the university. We've completed all of the remediation process on campus and are currently engaged in massive, massive reconstruction.
In the meantime, we decided that we wanted to return to New Orleans to be a part of the recovery. And so to do that meant looking for residential facilities as well as classroom facilities. We finally settled on the Hilton Hotel because it had enough living space for faculty, staff, students and administration. I actually live in the Hilton Hotel with them. And it provided the classroom spaces that we need for everything except for science labs, libraries, some services like healthcare.
And we were able to become a part of a consortium that I hope will continue. That consortium includes Tulane University, Xavier University and Loyola University.
Dr. HUGHES: So we provide shuttle transportation for our students who need science lab space and other spaces that we don't have at the Hilton Hotel.
CONAN: It sounds a little bit like what Dr. Desalvo was saying: it's a team sport. You all have to work together.
Dr. HUGHES: Absolutely. That is one of the benefits that grew out of this. And I think all of the presidents will tell you that we now know that we're all strengthened by the challenges that brought us together.
CONAN: And similarly though, it is also a competitive sport and each of those institutions and a dozen more are out also looking for money and for help and for - how do you deal with that?
Dr. HUGHES: Well, that's true. When it comes to fundraising and student enrollment, we compete. We know that. We're friends, we roll up our sleeves and we say that each of us will raise funds. Although in a lot of the fundraising, it became a very compatible partnership with some of the universities. So we have some jointly funded programs.
But it is very, very true, that in addition to competing for students and fundraising, in the final analysis, we have also discovered that our students -who are such outstanding students - are sought after by other universities. And the same is true by our faculty as well. So, we're trying to find ways to retain our students and our faculty, so that they are not plucked off because of the competitive offers that they have by some other universities.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Gwen?
THOMPKINS: One thing that I wanted to mention and hope that you might be able to mention as well, Dr. Hughes, is - let's talk about the campus itself, the Dillard University campus, which is one of the most beautiful in the region. It is - well, in its heyday, which was August 28th of last year…
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THOMPKINS: …it was just one of the most beautiful universities. This beautiful, green campus with - you know, with what appeared to be more than a dozen white mansions…
Dr. HUGHES: Yes, yes.
THOMPKINS: …I mean, just beautifully placed and positioned, just like Easter eggs on a beautiful lawn. Tell us a little bit more about it.
Dr. HUGHES: That is so very, just instructive about what that campus is like. I was actually in California, as university president, as you may know, until June 30th, almost, of last year. And I had been here to interview. One of the attractions was the beauty of the campus. The other, of course, was the quality of the student body and the quality of the faculty and staff, as well. But the beautiful, pristine white buildings and the lovely, expansive greenery, along with those old, old oak trees…
THOMPKINS: Yes, the live oaks.
Dr. HUGHES: Yes, the live oaks, describe what Dillard was. And when I returned and saw the level of the water and everything on the ground was brown, I could hardly believe it. However, I did make a decision and a promise to our students - who, as you know, were scattered across the country for the first semester -that if they returned to New Orleans, knowing that they could not go back to the site until probably fall, that we would make a point of preparing the campus so that they could return to march through the Avenue of the Oaks for commencement.
And so the very first time, when they return to the campus will be on June 30th. That will be the date for baccalaureate. And the massive celebration will be on July 1st, when all of those seniors and their many, many friends and parents converge on the campus to watch the seniors march through the oaks. And I get chills when I think about it because it is such a beautiful bonding experience that is so meaningful for that student body.
And so they will have all of the green sod that you're accustomed to. I think we're rolling it out as we speak. The exterior of the buildings has been painted. So the white, pristine buildings are returning back on the outside. The inside, of course, is under reconstruction or recovery. We do intend to begin classes later this year than usual, hoping to escape the hurricane season. So we have delayed our opening until September 25th. And with the right luck, I will not have to re-evacuate the third time.
Actually, I had evacuated once before Katrina. And that was for Dennis. Little did I realize that it was a practice for Katrina. But each time, we were very, very successful in getting all of our students off campus and serving notice to faculty, staff and administrators, that they too must leave - and take with them their personal research and belongings - and that we would close down.
Dr. HUGHES: So we closed down each time. We actually closed on the 27th, more than 48 hours ahead. We placed students on buses that we had commissioned and I waved goodbye to every one of them and closed the campus down at about six o'clock.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Lynn, Lynn calling us from Portland, Oregon.
LYNN(ph) (Caller): Yeah, hi, Lynn Johnson here, just to say a few things. I was actually chairman of the Department of Pediatrics here and my background is in looking after kids with cancer. And I can't tell you - and, Dr. Desalvo - how impressed I was by the fact that all the medical systems got together, in Baton Rouge, to help kids in very difficult situations, life-threatening situations.
And you know, Baton Rouge pulled up and helped. And all of the competition that we go through, as you well know, was put aside. And I thought that was absolutely fantastic. And the city is slowly coming back now, providing the very best care we can, for our kids. Having said that, what really upset me was the fact that…
CONAN: There's always one of those buts, isn't there?
LYNN: I'm sorry?
CONAN: Go ahead, I'm sorry to interrupt.
LYNN: No, no, that's fine. It was that the government couldn't ensure that we had continuity of care. So the sickest of the sickest kids during this whole sort of event - and - but I just wanted to emphasize the fact that once politics were put aside, economics were put aside, the patient was the number one person to be looked after; and I thought that was fantastic.
CONAN: Dr. Desalvo?
Dr. DESALVO: Thanks for highlighting some of the positive stuff that happened, because it is true and it really does continue, that idea of putting patients first. We actually had a little - a coalition of business community, hospital association, commercial insurers and physicians, that had a little group for a while called Patients First. And it was a suggestion, actually, of the hospital association - that's what we call it - and I almost fell off my chair. But it was so nice because that's exactly what you say. They've been putting patients first in a way that we haven't thought to do before.
As far as being able to ensure continuity, it's been a huge challenge and that, again, goes back to why we want to make sure that we're using technology as a solution for that. Because the technology's available to allow for that care to be seamless, if patients have their medical records like that.
CONAN: Let me ask you both, Dr. Desalvo and also Marvalene Hughes. It's interesting what Lynn said, the failures of government - after the failures of government a year ago, are you depending on them this time around or are you going to be self-sufficient? Marvalene Hughes.
Dr. HUGHES: Well, we have a level of self-sufficiency for our campus, in that I can determine when the evacuation occurs; I don't have to wait for the orders from the government to do that. And I will continue to make decisions that will probably cause me to be very cautious, because I value life too much to take any of those risks.
So once I have been able to secure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, then the dependency that I have on the city and the government relate to utilities, for example, because we are in one of those dark communities still -that Lynn is talking about - and we expect that the city will have prepared for our return in September. We also are dependent on that area for business and entertainment, and we are hoping that very soon entertainment and business will return to the community.
I view us as being the anchor tenants in that area, and it's important that we are returning, that's where the life is, and others will be attracted as soon as we return there.
CONAN: Dr. Desalvo, you going to depend on government?
Dr. DESALVO: Well, you know, honestly we have to be able to depend on the government for certain areas. One of the lessons we learned last year was how valuable the military, for example, is in a healthcare environment like that.
They were helpful in a number of ways. For example, they'd bring with them entire hospitals, if you are able to ask and know what to ask for. And so they sort of open a suitcase and out pops anything from a dental chair to, you know, sort of Band Aids, which was really critical for us. We were able to get simple supplies, but not really able to have the equipment and the refrigeration and all those other pieces we needed.
They were also really critical in partnering with the local healthcare community to help with the evacuation. So in those early weeks, especially in September, when we didn't have strong medical control or 911 services or even ways to transport folks, they were able to mobilize their efforts.
CONAN: I wanted to thank Lynn very much for the call. We appreciate it. And I need to say that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Marvalene Hughes, I'm sorry.
Dr. HUGHES: I probably should add that our governmental dependency began after we returned and started our reconstruction. As you were talking, I was thinking about the challenges that we have, for example, in getting the products that we need for reconstruction and the challenges that we have in working with FEMA. FEMA is going to ultimately become very, very important in the final outcome for our preparedness, because after the insurance policies and our resources are depleted, then that's when FEMA is supposed to kick in. And I think all of us know that there have been some major, major challenges there.
CONAN: You were talking earlier about the importance of the - well, in New Orleans, entertainment and then food are not ancillary businesses; they're a lot of what the city is about. Any number of restaurants here that provide memorable eating experiences. And before Katrina, Pampy's was one of those. Pampy's was severely damaged during the storm. It's still undergoing repairs, hopes to reopen soon. Stamford Barre is the owner and general manager. He's with us here at Le Chat Noir. Nice to have you with us today.
Mr. STAMFORD BARRE (Owner, Pampy's Restaurant, New Orleans): Good to see you guys.
CONAN: Like Dillard, you're not fully back yet. You getting ready?
Mr. BARRE: Yes, we've started our work. We've got about maybe six or seven weeks before we open. I have the nucleus of my cooking staff together, you know, as unfortunately I lost my chef, Austin Leslie. But his spirit is going to be in that kitchen in those guys that he gave all of those little cooking tips to.
Dr. HUGHES: But will his fried chicken be in your kitchen also?
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Mr. BARRE: No question. Without a doubt, without a doubt.
CONAN: But what are you doing differently this time around. I mean, you...
Mr. BARRE: Oh, I'm going to change the concept. The order of the day now is cheap, quick and in a hurry. The tablecloths are going to come off the tables; there'll be no waiter service, because I have a labor problem. No prime steaks, no duck, no 912 shrimp. We're going to do our gumbo and do our fried chicken and stuffed peppers and stuff like that. We're going to have maybe two or three cooked specials a day, Po-boys and some borough seafood. Will make the bar a little bigger and hope to get some of the frowns off of people's faces so they can come in and have a great time.
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CONAN: You have a lot of employees.
Mr. BARRE: I have 71 employees, most of them are still scattered all over the country. The only place we're in operation now is the airport, and it's so unfortunate. The Municipal Auditorium and the Theater of Performing Arts are still dark.
CONAN: Do you accept, though, that you have a responsibility to them, to tell them when we're shutting down, when we're going, what your plans are?
Mr. BARRE: Oh, we did that. But you know, we're going to do a little different this time. Every venue manager now is going to have the cell phones and phone numbers of all of the employees under their supervision. And we have these cell phones with company radios on them. This time I'm going to let the supervisors take the radios with them and we'll have better communications. You know, we're a small company. I can't rent a hotel for people, but when you stay in touch, you're able to help. When I got back, I spent almost two weeks in a line at Wal-Mart mailing off $200 and $300 to employees that were just absolutely stranded, you know. But they'll find a way to get a hold of you and we'll be better prepared next time.
CONAN: All right, we have to take another short break, so stay with us. We're going to be talking more with our guests about how they're preparing as another hurricane season approaches. Again, if you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
I'm Neal Conan, live from New Orleans, Louisiana. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting live today from Le Chat Noir in New Orleans, Louisiana
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CONAN: Tomorrow, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY. Ira Flatow will be here. Join him for the latest on how the New Orleans levees failed during last year's hurricanes. Plus, this year's hurricane forecast: Could we see another Katrina? That's all tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY.
Right now, we're broadcasting live from Le Chat Noir. People are recharging their batteries emotionally and physically and thinking about what they might do differently this time as they prepare for the Atlantic hurricane season, which begins a week from today.
Our guests are Gwen Thompkins, our colleague and Senior Editor at NPR's WEEKEND EDITION-SATURDAY; Dr. Karen Desalvo, Chief of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Tulane University; Marvalene Hughes, she's the President of Dillard University; and Stamford Barre, who's the owner and General Manager of Pampy's Restaurant.
If you'd like to join us, if you have questions about how people here are getting ready, what they have learned, what they would do differently, give us a call. And also if you're here in the audience in New Orleans, what are you doing? Are you ready? 800-989-8255; 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
THOMPKINS: One thing that I wanted to mention is that - and this is sort of a follow-up to what Dr. Desalvo said a few minutes ago about the fact that we have developed our own vernacular for what we've been experiencing and how we're going to be dealing with the future. And I can actually mention three new terms that have come up - that have been created in New Orleans since the storm that might be helpful.
One, this is written by my friend, Elizabeth Mullener over at The Times-Picayune, who mentioned the Katrina Moment.
A Katrina Moment is equally melancholy and joyful. This is when you recognize what has been lost and also you are thankful for what you have right now and the fact that - and optimistic about what the future might bring. The two go hand in hand; they're the two faces of (unintelligible), the Katrina Moment. The next one is Hurrication, which is where you go when the storm is coming. You go on a hurrication.
(Soundbite of laughter)
THOMPKINS: And then lastly, and this is one of my favorites from Dr. John, which is, we have been traumaticalized in New Orleans.
(Soundbite of laughter)
THOMPKINS: Traumaticalized. And it's a word that I want to use every day of the week now. I've been traumaticalized. But there are many, many, many more; and the reason why these words exist is because they're an outgrowth of who we are as New Orleanians, in the sense that we always bring a sense of humor, even to some of the most heart-wrenching situations. But we always see more than one side of a situation at the same time.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Casey(ph). Casey calling from Newark, Delaware.
CASEY (Caller): Hi.
CASEY: I'm a college student who is going - on Monday I'm going to the Ninth Ward with a group called Common Ground Relief Collective to do rebuilding for the summer.
The reason I'm going is not so much that I'm sure the Ninth Ward should be rebuilt, but because I just love the culture and love the people I worked with when I was there on Spring Break. I was wondering what you - what all of you -what your opinion is on whether or not the Ninth Ward should be rebuilt. Because, on the one hand, people lived there, and if it's not rebuilt they won't have a place to live; but on the other hand, if it's not rebuilt - or, excuse me, if it is rebuilt, when another hurricane comes through it could happen all over again.
CONAN: It's also going -- looks like New Orleans is going to be a smaller city than it used to be. But none of you people are in positions of policy. It's not your decision as to whether it gets rebuilt or not, but I'm interested. Stamford Barre?
Mr. BARRE: It's going to take up a lot of resources that are short right now. And just geographically, from what I've seen, I don't know how much sense it makes. I don't know if you've been down there, but it's absolutely devastated, devastated. And I don't know how you - I don't know how you put it back together.
CONAN: Marvalene Hughes?
Dr. HUGHES: I haven't gone, because I had enough to confront myself. But, at the same time, I really empathize with the perspective that these are homes for people. And when I talk with people who have been displaced, they love New Orleans, they want to come back, they want to get their homes restored. Many of my faculty lost their homes, and many of the students did, as well.
So it's very difficult. I mean, I think people who want to come back should be given the opportunity to come back, whether it's in the Ninth Ward or wherever it is.
CONAN: Dr. Desalvo, what do you think?
Dr. DESALVO: Well, clearly New Orleans needs to exist; we're part of the economic viability of the country. There's no doubt about that. The size of the city and the footprint are something that engineers and policy makers and urban planners need to decide.
The infrastructure needed to support those people from the healthcare standpoint is the challenge for us in the community - healthcare community. So the ways that we've tried to deal with this sort of fluctuating population base is not to have anchored clinics, but then to use mobile units to reach out to those neighborhoods that pop up overnight. So when they turn on the water in the Ninth Ward and all of a sudden a couple of thousand people come to live in a trailer, there's no health system there for them. So we're trying to be creative about how we reach out to them.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. We want to introduce a new guest. So to do that, because of our physical structure here at the - we're going to have to say goodbye to Stamford Barre and wish him the best of luck with Pampy's when it reopens in a few weeks time.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: Appreciate his time today.
And let me introduce Karyn Noles Bewley, the Managing Director of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. It's nice to have you with us here on the program.
Ms. KARYN NOLES BEWLEY (Managing Director of the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas): Good afternoon. Thank you.
CONAN: And the aquarium lost most of its animals in Katrina, but there's awfully good news: it reopens tomorrow. Congratulations.
Ms. BEWLEY: Thank you. We are reopening tomorrow morning.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: After the disaster that struck last time, and thousands of animals lost their lives, what are you doing differently now?
Ms. BEWLEY: Well, Neal, like other large facilities in New Orleans, we experienced the ultimate test in disaster response, and we learned many things during Katrina.
Redundancy and partnerships are the keys to our hurricane plan. We learned, during Katrina, resources like fuel - extremely limited, often confiscated. So we need to have a backup plan and a plan B, and a plan C, to the backup plan.
We're partnering - as Dr. Desalvo mentioned, we're developing partnerships throughout the city. We're partnering with a division of the military that we are actually going to install in our IMAX Theater. We're partnering with a private company that has a first responder services, and we're going to house their essential personnel and equipment on our site.
So partnerships, redundancy, and also I'll mention - and we serve on a National Emergency Response Team for the zoo and aquarium industry. They came to our aid the day after Katrina. We could not have reopened this facility, which is the most visited tourist attraction in the State of Louisiana, without the support of zoos aquariums from across the country.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. The most visited site in the State of Louisiana before Katrina. Tourism is not back to where it was. Summer is not tourist season in New Orleans, an institution that not only paid its way, but helped other institutions, too. Now you're going to be running a deficit?
Ms. BEWLEY: Well, we believe we have a responsibility to New Orleans and to Louisiana. As Gwen mentioned, if you live in New Orleans right now, it can be a really tough road. And the loss of so many people, cultures, homes, businesses, can be very overwhelming.
Quite frankly, we need some happy places in New Orleans. We need some things to be proud of in our city, and we need to be reminded to laugh and to experience the joy of our childhood. And the experiences that we offer at the zoo and aquarium, we believe they provide a refuge for our residents, and you can lose yourself in nature and spend quality-time with your friends and family.
And also, for our tourism industry, 35 percent of our city's revenue comes from tourism in New Orleans. We know that we need to diversify our economy, but the rebuilding of tourism and the 80,000 jobs that it provided is critical to the future of our city, now and in the future. So opening this anchor attraction, the zoo opened on Thanksgiving weekend; probably not a good business decision for the Audubon Nature Institute, but it was the right thing for the community. We're going to open this aquarium tomorrow, and we believe that people from throughout Louisiana, the rest of the country, and New Orleans, will come and support New Orleans and the aquarium.
And I have to say, when I visit - and I'll add a word to your dictionary there - when I go on Katreat, which I have to do on a regular basis to just escape. People say, what can we do to help New Orleans? I tell them, visit us; eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels.
And I'll add one more word to that. What I'd like to see us grow in New Orleans is something I call voluntourism. Come to our city, dance in our streets, eat in our restaurants, and spend a little time helping us rebuild our city. You will come away a better person, and you will have a good time.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: Hmm. You don't have to be in the city long, especially this week, to recognize that one of the symbols of the recovery from Katrina has been the penguin. Unlikely, but nevertheless there at the aquarium.
Let's get a question from here at the audience at Le Chat Noir.
Mr. LEN BARR(ph) (Audience Member): Hi. I'm Len Barr. I have a question for Dr. Desalvo. It has to do with brain drain problems in the city. The - you talked about the chronic overload, it sounded like, of the medical establishment, and yet, I'm wondering if so many people have been displaced that there's an imbalance in terms of the patient base. And the reason I ask is very personal, my daughter has been dating a wonderful guy for - who's a Tulane resident in his third year, and he's about to leave because there's not enough establishment here for serious work in the future. And I'm wondering how long it will take? I hate to see smart people leave and go to California or wherever.
Dr. DESALVO: Yeah, we hate it, too. And Dr. Hughes talked about the poaching -we call it looting, in our universe. And it's been relentless really, and the partners that we've had nationally who have stayed away from that, we really appreciate that.
As far as the health system goes, we're definitely involved in a bit of a serious overhaul and a revolution. Workforce is at the core of that. We think everyday about how we can retain all of the workforce, physicians and everyone else who's part of the team. There are some efforts that are already underway, which is to do some loan relief to allow for some loan repayment, et cetera. But really, those pieces are a bit stuck with the policymakers right now, quite frankly; and so we have a wish list from the healthcare community, but we need some action on that.
I'd say also, that two or three years from now, what our dream is in rebuilding the health sector, is that we're going to have a place that they're going to be beating down the door to get in, frankly. The vision we have for this health system is one that will drive the world forward. It's going to be amazing and world class.
So if we could find a way to keep him here for a couple of years to build that, and truthfully, I would just add that piece, the young people that want - I have - in our group of residents, I don't know what his specialty is, but I have more people who want to stay than I have opportunities for them. And I'm trying to find ways with our partners to keep them in town, because I'm so energized by how many young people do want to stay and be part of the rebuilding and remaking of the city.
Mr. BARR: Ophthalmology.
Dr. DESALVO: Ophthalmology.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the question.
Mr. BARR: Thanks.
CONAN: We're talking today...
Dr. DESALVO: Just leave his CV at the door and we'll see what we can do.
CONAN: We're talking today about the next six months in New Orleans, and on down the road. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Marvalene Hughes, you wanted add something?
Dr. HUGHES: I wanted to add that we really have confronted that brain drain issue up front. We did it by understanding, before we even returned and brought out community back together, that we had to focus on incentivizing retention for faculty and staff. And so we've been able to provide incentives that have re-attracted students, major, major scholarship opportunities, for example, and some salary bonuses, as well.
Dr. HUGHES: I think that it's going to be very, very necessary for all of us to get through this period while the city is recovering.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Karyn Noles Bewley, is that - also, rents are up. The cost of living is up.
Ms. BEWLEY: Well, from a tourism perspective, housing is a critical issue for us. I mean, my friends in the restaurant building business are bringing in workers from other countries, so we really need to focus - our government needs to focus on housing, providing affordable housing; because in order to rebuild our tourism industry, we need to have a place for people to live.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Al(ph); Al's calling from San Antonio.
AL (Caller): Yes, the entire country has sympathy and empathy for the victims of Katrina. So what I'm going to say may sound harsh, but I'd like to know how you rationalize the fact that many people live in disaster areas - well-known disaster areas, whether it's earthquake in California, or the hurricane-ridden areas of the coast, and they live there voluntarily. And when these events occur, they immediately begin criticizing the government. How do they rationalize that?
CONAN: How do you rationalize that? Gwen Thompkins, I'm going to throw that to you.
THOMPKINS: Well, that's something - that's a point of view that we've heard over the past several months more than once. And I guess my response to that is, you know, no one wants to go and set up a tent on a highway to live. We take measured risks. There is no place in this country that is risk-free. Nature is always going to be more powerful than man.
But we are, as mankind, people-kind, humankind, our job is to create a way where there is no way, or there appears to be no way. And the people of New Orleans, and the people of the Gulf Coast, we are continuing an experiment, if you want to call it, or a mission that was begun by two brothers named Iberville and Bienville almost 400 years ago. And there has been a New Orleans for almost 400 years.
So the idea that Katrina can come and change the minds of the people who live here is not necessarily an idea that we entertain very easily. Because there will be Katrinas, there will be Betsys, there will be Camilles, but this is a beautiful place to live and it is a welcoming place; and it welcomes the entire world, it welcomes kings and popes and presidents, people who want to be here.
And for the people who live in New Orleans, this is home plate. This is - we all - we leave periodically, but our intention is always to come home. And when you come to New Orleans, whether you're from here, whether you're born here, whether you're from someplace else and you want to come spend some time with us, the people of New Orleans weave you in. We want you to be with us.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: Karen Desalvo, I'm going to give you the last word.
Dr. DESALVO: Well, I agree with what Gwen said, and I hear what the man is -the caller is saying. One of the problems in this country is that people think about New Orleans as their mistress in some way, if you will, or the country's and the world's place to go to have fun. But they haven't taken us quite seriously enough. And I think the economic information bears out that we're a major port city and that we have - we're bringing oil and gas and seafood into this country. And the way that we should approach rebuilding this place is that it's vital to the country.
The piece about government is just simply that, I think we all want to rebuild this place ourselves, but there's an expectation the government's going to support the infrastructure; and the levees were part of that promise that they made and it needs to be fixed.
CONAN: All right.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: I want to thank Karen Desalvo, who you just heard, Chief of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Tulane; Marvalene Hughes, President of Dillard University; Stamford Barre, who was with us earlier, owner and General Manager of Pampy's Restaurant; and Karyn Noles Bewley, Managing Director of the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas; and my colleague, Gwendolyn Thompkins who joined us here at Le Chat Noir in New Orleans.
I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.
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