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Care facilities slammed by Katrina back stronger than ever

Coast hospitals that took on major damages from Hurricane Katrina have come back stronger than ever, and in some cases are better equipped now — because so much medical equipment destroyed in the storm had to be replaced — than before the storm.

The Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis, located near the worst devastation from Katrina, lost approximately $14 million worth of equipment due to storm damage. That has now been replaced with the latest technology, and the center has also established more medical services north of Interstate 10 in Diamondhead.

‘Massive replacement project’

Hal Leftwich, administrator of Hancock Medical Center, said brand new equipment includes an MRI unit, a GE CT scanner and a GE nuclear medicine scanner. The center is now one of the few on the Coast that has digital mammography, which is more accurate and lends itself to computer aided diagnosis.

“As we restored surgery capabilities, we bought brand new scopes, operating room tables and lights,” Leftwich says. “Right now, we’re renewing all the furniture in the intensive care unit. We have new monitoring systems. It has just been a massive replacement project, and that is one of the reasons it has taken a while to develop. We have 47 of our 104 beds open. We are getting ready to open more as the physicians start to admit more patients.”

In addition to being able to restore nearly all of the clinical services offered prior to Katrina, Leftwich says the hospital has been able to help the medical staff retain and build a bigger presence in the community. The center is serving nearly as many patients now on an outpatient basis and in the emergency room as two years ago. And there has been additional development of its campus in Diamondhead to make sure residents displaced north of Interstate 10 have convenient access to medical services.

Greater access

“We are getting ready to open an urgent medical care center in Diamondhead in August at our Shepherd Square facility,” Leftwich says. “Many of the doctors have established extensions to their practice up in that area. That will make it more convenient for everyone in the county to have access to those services. Our clinics in Kiln and Port Bienville have reopened. The one in Kiln is in its previous facility. The one at Port Bienville is in a temporary building.”

Hancock Medical Center, whose first floor flooded during Katrina, is also planning storm mitigation projects that will make the main campus less vulnerable to future storm damages. Generators will be elevated to a higher level, and there are also plans to elevate some of the departments heavily damaged in Katrina like surgery, the emergency room, x-ray and laboratory.

“We will end up with an entirely renovated first floor, a new wing to the facility that will mitigate some of the future perils, and we are actively expanding our services,” Leftwich says. “The Hancock Medical Center Foundation is working with us to help with projects that are needed but weren’t funded by FEMA or insurance.”

Another Coast hospital that has taken lemons and turned them into lemonade by improving its facilities after Katrina is the Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport.

“With the assistance of our parent company, HCA, Garden Park’s services are, in many areas, better than they were prior to Katrina,” says William Peaks, CEO of Garden Park. “We were able to upgrade some of our equipment since then such as our state-of-the-art MRI and CT units. Additionally, we have added to surgical and other general patient service equipment hospital wide. Upgrades to the building itself have been installed such as more storm-resistance roofing, shatter proof windows, our own water well and more effective emergency power capability.”

Plan in place

Peaks says Garden Park’s disaster plan worked well during Katrina, despite the fact that it was an unprecedented event. It had adequate supplies on hand during the storm, additional generators and equipment, physicians and staff available to care for the patients who were too sick to be discharged prior to the storm.

“With the help of our parent company, HCA, we were able to secure many resources immediately after the storm to help the hospital recover and to help our employees, as well,” Peaks says. “Since then, we have updated our disaster plan to reflect changes identified as a result of Katrina.”

All storm damage has been repaired at the Coast’s largest hospital, Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, and the facility is now stronger than before. Gary Marchand, CEO of Memorial Hospital, says the roof has not only been repaired but improved. All the damaged glass has been replaced. And what is called spandrel glass, the black tile glass between windows in the medical office building, has been replaced with an aluminum compound that looks the same but is more durable and crash resistant and less prone to shattering in low pressure.

Center of the recovery

Memorial Hospital is located north of the railroad tracks and didn’t flood. The 445-bed hospital did sustain approximately $17 million to $20 million in storm damage. Because Memorial is a public hospital, FEMA helped cover some of the hospital’s deductibles on insurance, which was a benefit.

Marchand says the hospital learned a lot from every storm that preceded Katrina, and feel that experience helped it “hit a home run ball” in terms of their response following Katrina.

“We were not only the only hospital in Harrison and Hancock counties that remained open during and immediately after the storm, but we supported every search-and-rescue mission deployed to the Coast and served as a community shelter,” Marchand says. “We supported missions of the Seabees, the Coast Guard, the Air Force, the Army and the Navy. We had so much helicopter traffic we cleared two parking lots and gave one to the Army and one to the Air Force. We were landing them in parking lots next to the medical office building. They came in with patients and transports pretty much constantly for a couple of weeks after the storm.”

While most things worked exceptionally well, one lesson from Katrina was the need for more satellite phone and Internet capability.

“I think everyone learned what it was like to be cut off from the world,” he says.

The Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs Hospital received minimal damage from the storm. The Ocean Springs Hospital is again trying for an expansion after an earlier effort was blocked by other Coast hospitals through the state’s certificate of need process.

Ocean Springs has a new certificate of need application that seeks permission to construct a two-story tower to be located on the northwest corner of the Ocean Springs Hospital that will house a new 20-bed observation unit, as well as create new space for the expansion of the hospital’s outpatient services.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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