- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — Dr. Edward Halton was given less than 24 hours’ notice that he would be in charge of the Algiers Community Health Clinic when it re-opened last week.

Dr. Halton, 57, roamed the clinic and its parking lot in Louisiana State University slippers — organizing offices, coordinating with the military and working with a staff of LSU emergency medicine residents.

“Our mission is to keep people from having to go to the hospital,” said Dr. Halton, noting that Hurricane Katrina had closed 15 of the area’s 18 emergency rooms. “I want them to be available for the big stuff.”

Four weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated this city, local doctors and other medical professionals are returning to open facilities and take over from providers — such as the military and disaster-relief teams — who filled the gap in the wake of the disaster.

And they expect to encounter a big increase in traffic. Residents will be bitten by wild animals or feral house pets and injured as they attempt home repairs, especially chain-saw novices.

On Sept. 19, the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division set up shop in front of the Algiers clinic. In less than a week, the unit had provided vaccinations, prescriptions and medical care to thousands of people, but this was the first day that they had operated on the site of a pre-existing clinic. It was also the last day of the 82nd’s role in medical relief.

“It’s nice having these guys,” Dr. Halton said of the 82nd. “But the population is going to look at them and [see that] they’re temporary.”

That same day, Algiers became the first community in Orleans Parish to reopen to evacuees.

Health care workers say they want returning residents to see local doctors in familiar surroundings.

At West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Kerry Jeanice has been working as the liaison between the hospital’s emergency-room staff and disaster-relief teams from across the country.

“All our people in the ER are our regulars right now,” Miss Jeanice said.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, the emergency-room staff worked to save people injured in the lawlessness that engulfed the city as many people arrived with gunshot or stab wounds.

To ease the burden on West Jefferson and the area’s two other open emergency rooms, officials have worked to reopen Touro Infirmary in New Orleans’ Garden District. When it reopens, it will be the only emergency room within the city limits.

“We found the best hospital in the parish that had not received significant water damage,” said Lt. Col. Kurt Ryan of the 82nd Airborne. “We encouraged [the staff] to come back from Baton Rouge and begin rebuilding their hospital.”

The hospital was to reopen last Wednesday, but with Hurricane Rita moving through the Gulf of Mexico, the hospital’s president pushed the opening back to today.

Before the flood, the Dr. Halton, an LSU professor, had supervised residents at Charity Hospital’s emergency room. He and his residents remained in the flooded hospital to evacuate their patients before leaving the city. Now, said resident Gerald O’Bryan, all of the residents have returned to the city to assist in the relief effort.

The residents, along with volunteers from across the country, are working to ensure that only people with serious medical emergencies end up in the city’s emergency rooms.

“We need clinics like this to do that,” said Jason Desadier, a Louisiana native who returned from medical school in Northern California to assist the relief effort.

Last Tuesday, Dr. Halton and his staff were joined by Dr. Edward Madison III. Dr. Madison had trained under Dr. Halton when he was an emergency-medicine resident at Charity Hospital and now works for EXCELth, the company that operated the Algiers clinic before the storm.

Dr. Madison lost his home in the flood and, along with six of EXCELth’s seven physicians, returned to the New Orleans area when they found housing. While Dr. Halton and his team do their work, Dr. Madison will be resuming his role as a primary care provider to Algiers’ poor and uninsured.

Dr. Madison and EXCELth CEO Michael Andry said they expect their role as primary care providers to expand. In the meantime, Dr. Madison said he is not bothered that his clinic is being run as a de facto emergency room.

“I drove from Arlington, Texas, to here to be in the mix,” Dr. Madison said. “It’s so exciting to be back; it’s exciting to care for patients.”

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