- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

A pair of New Orleans hospitals that have been fixtures in the city for decades — Charity and University — were declared unsalvageable yesterday after sustaining a combined $445 million in damages from Hurricane Katrina.

Each has treated a half-million people a year. Now they have been deemed health hazards.

“Both facilities are dangerous, dangerous places,”said Donald R. Smithburg, chief executive officer of the Louisiana State University Health Care Services Division, which oversees the hospitals.

He vowed that the health care system would rebuild “to withstand the next storm, and the one after that.”

Mr. Smithburg called Hurricane Katrina a “death warrant” for the aging facilities. Charity, a level-one trauma center and the region’s largest indigent hospital, was built in the 1930s. It is the nation’s oldest continuously operating hospital. University has been in operation for more than four decades.

“Over the past several weeks, experts have inspected both,” Mr. Smithburg told university officials in Baton Rouge.

“Perhaps to the well-intended observer the facilities don’t look much worse than they did pre-Katrina, but through the lenses of consulting engineers, the buildings have unsafe air to breathe, pervasive mold growing and mechanical systems that were completely destroyed by the storm,” Mr. Smithburg said.

While residents have begun to return to all but two of the hardest-hit New Orleans neighborhoods, the official search for corpses has been halted. The death toll in the state stands at 972, the state health department said.

“There might still be bodies found — for instance, if a house was locked and nobody able to go into it,” said Bob Johannessen of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Meanwhile, different challenges mount elsewhere. Smaller health centers in 33 states have treated 46,000 Gulf Coast evacuees, the Washington-based National Association of Community Health Centers reported yesterday. Some of the sick have ventured as far away as Ohio for care.

“No one is turned away,” said spokesman Dan Hawkins, who categorized the situation as “a major public health problem.”

The association supports a Senate bill that includes a provision allowing direct federal payments to health centers that provided uncompensated care to evacuees or displaced families.

These patients often have no money and have gone without vital medications, said Dr. Gary Wiltz of Teche Action Clinic, a small facility in Franklin that has treated 300 evacuees.

“Many are the elderly with multiple diseases, or children,” Dr. Wiltz told the Louisiana Primary Care Association yesterday.

“We are slowly depleting our medical and pharmacy supplies,” he said. “If we are to adequately take care of the countless number of evacuees who are pouring into our community daily without sacrificing quality and safety of care, we must have sufficient supplies and medicines.”

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