- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Volunteer physicians are pouring in to care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from reaching Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems escalate.

Among the stymied doctors are 100 surgeons and paramedics in a state-of-the-art mobile hospital marooned in rural Mississippi.

“The bell was rung, the e-mails were sent off. … We all got off work and deployed,” said one of the frustrated surgeons, Dr. Preston “Chip” Rich of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We have tried so hard to do the right thing. It took us 30 hours to get here,” he said. That government officials can’t straighten out the mess and get them assigned to a relief effort now that they’re just a few miles away “is just mind-boggling,” he said.

While the doctors wait, the first signs of disease from contaminated water began to emerge on Saturday: A Mississippi shelter was closed after 20 residents got sick with dysentery.

Many other storm survivors were being treated in the Houston Astrodome and other shelters for an assortment of problems, including chronic health conditions left untreated because people had lost or used up their medicine.

The North Carolina mobile hospital stranded in Mississippi was developed with millions of tax dollars through the Office of Homeland Security after the September 11 terrorist attacks. With capacity for 113 beds, it is designed to handle disasters and mass casualties.

Equipment includes ultrasound, digital radiology, satellite Internet, and a full pharmacy, enabling doctors to do most types of surgery in the field, including open-chest and abdominal operations.

It travels in a convoy that includes two 53-foot trailers, which as of yesterday afternoon was parked on a gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials for several days would not let the group deploy to the flooded city, Dr. Rich said.

Yet plans to use the facility and its 100 health professionals were developed days before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, doctors in the caravan said.

As the group talked with Mississippi officials about prospects for helping out there, other doctors complained that their offers of help also were turned away.

A primary-care physician from Ohio called and e-mailed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after seeing a notice on the American Medical Association’s Web site about volunteer doctors being needed.

An e-mail reply told him to watch CNN that night, when Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt was to announce a Web address for doctors to enter their names in a database. “How crazy is that?” he complained in an e-mail to his daughter.

The situation frustrated Dr. Jeffrey Guy, a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University who has been in contact with the mobile hospital doctors. “There are entire hospitals that are contacting me, saying, ‘We need to take on patients,’ but they can’t get through the bureaucracy,” he said.

“The crime of this story is, you’ve got millions of dollars in assets, and it’s not deployed,” Dr. Guy said. “We mount a better response in a Third World country.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide