More than 1,000 residents of flood-ravaged Jefferson Parish treated in
the first week
UM medical experts who were part of "Operation Lifeline" included (from left to right) Richard Colgan, M.D., Kisha Davis, M.D., Morgen Bernius, M.D., Jeanette Armor, R.N., and Donald Alves, M.D.
A contingent of doctors and nurses from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and University of Maryland Medical Center were instrumental in setting up six health clinics in a community just west of New Orleans to provide medical care for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. More than 1,000 residents of Jefferson Parish were treated at the clinics in the first week.
The University of Maryland medical experts were among more than 80 health professionals from Maryland who arrived in Louisiana on Sept. 5 to help the hurricane survivors as part of “Operation Lifeline.” The relief effort was coordinated by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems.
The volunteers set up headquarters in Meadowcrest Hospital in Gretna, La., which had been hastily evacuated in the wake of the storm, and in less than 24 hours, had established clinics at six fire stations and schools throughout the parish, according to Donald Alves, M.D., an Emergency Department physician who served as the operation’s chief medical officer. “It was really a remarkable effort, with volunteers from throughout Maryland working together to help those who had lost everything in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” Dr. Alves says.
Each of the six community health centers was staffed by physicians, nurses, a pharmacist and other medical personnel, and security was provided by the National Guard. Supplies came from those on hand at Meadowcrest Hospital and other sources, including the University of Maryland Medical Center, which donated needed medications including insulin and antibiotics. Only two of the clinics had running water or electricity.
“We saw about 50 patients the first day, but by the end of the week, we were treating 300 patients a day,” Dr. Alves says. “Many people needed medicine for high blood pressure or diabetes. We gave antibiotics to others with minor wounds that had become infected.” He noted that they transferred 20 people with more serious injuries to West Jefferson Hospital for treatment, including a man whose wife had shot him by mistake, thinking he was an intruder.
“We treated everything. It was largely primary care medicine,” says Richard Colgan, M.D., from the Department of Family Medicine, who, with second-year resident Kisha Davis, M.D., worked at a clinic set up in a fire station on the western edge of Jefferson Parish. The clinic was later moved across the street to a former community health center. Dr. Colgan says they treated one patient with a bone infection who had a temperature of over 102 degrees and a young pregnant woman who was concerned about the health of her unborn baby. “We were able to find her baby’s heartbeat, which was very gratifying to her,” Dr. Colgan says.
"Operation Lifeline" volunteers set up six community health clinics and treated more than 1,000 people in one week.
Jeanette Armor, R.N., a pediatric Emergency Department nurse, says that they also saw a number of children at her clinic at an elementary school in Marrero, many with bug bites, rashes and heat-related ailments. “A lot of parents just needed a lot of reassurance. They were bringing in all of their children to make sure that they were all right,” Ms. Armor says. She notes that the medical team also treated utility workers and National Guardsmen who had fungus infections on their feet from wearing wet boots and socks. Counseling was also offered to relief workers with signs of post traumatic stress syndrome.
The volunteers also created an information sheet with tips on how to stay healthy in spite of the contaminated conditions. “We felt it was important to help people prevent illnesses that could result from the disaster,” Dr. Alves says.
Residents of the community welcomed the Maryland medical volunteers and tried to show their appreciation. A local jazz musician played piano at a school that was turned into a clinic while others in the community brought fried shrimp and gumbo. One woman brought Mardi Gras beads. “It was really uplifting. It felt really good to be there,” says Ms. Armor. “The hardest thing was to leave while the needs were still so great. Our hope is that local health care workers will pick up where we have left off.”
“What was extremely gratifying and inspiring was that this was an all-Maryland effort,” adds Dr. Colgan, noting that the Maryland volunteers had taken over and cleaned up the abandoned hospital where they were staying, set up the community clinics and worked with crews from several Maryland fire departments who brought their ambulances to Louisiana.
Two University of Maryland Emergency Department physicians, Wade Gaasch, M.D., and Morgen Bernius, M.D., participated in search-and-rescue missions in St. Bernard’s Parish, going door to door to 3,000 houses looking for survivors or residents who had died.
Other University of Maryland physicians participating in the relief effort include Suzanne Sysko, M.D., of Internal Medicine; Elizabeth Fronc, M.D., and Jakub Simon, M.D., of Pediatrics and Casey Jason, M.D., of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Fronc practices at Baltimore Washington Medical Center and Dr. Jason practices at Maryland General Hospital. Those hospitals, along with the University of Maryland Medical Center, are part of the University of Maryland Medical System. Additional University of Maryland doctors, nurses and other health care professionals have volunteered to go in future weeks if requested by Maryland officials.
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