Private Hospital Evacuations

This may be a bit overtime, but the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Weintraub covers a great Wall Street Journal story from last week on: HCA, and its amazing effort to evacuate one of its hospitals in New Orleans last week — including assembling a fleet of 20 private helicopters from around the region and bringing in ham radio operators to act as air traffic controllers. Here is an excerpt: HCA’s evacuation of critically ill patients in the midst of poor flying conditions, no electricity, weak phone links and frequent sniper fire stands out among rescue operations in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricane. It throws into relief a corresponding failure of the public-rescue system: No such operation occurred across the street, at state-run Charity Hospital. Indeed, HCA helped rescue up to 50 patients from Charity, many of whom were critically ill. Although HCA’s own patients and employees were in peril, the company’s ability to launch and execute a rescue shows how advance planning and private resources gave HCA and its patients a far different experience than those at Charity and other public hospitals. “We were unable to get any government help in evacuating,” says Norman McSwain, a professor of surgery at Tulane and trauma director at Charity, who worked at both hospitals throughout the crisis. Two evacuated patients, both from Charity, didn’t make it. The evacuation was the result of bold decisions by senior executives in the heat of the moment, coupled with some careful advance work. Last fall, top brass from HCA and its hospitals met at the Hyatt Hotel in Orlando, Fla., for a “Hurricane Lessons Learned” meeting. Three hurricanes had roared through Florida over the previous months, and HCA, whose 190 hospitals and 91 outpatient surgery centers are concentrated in the Southeast, wanted to better protect its facilities. Some key gaps HCA identified: Cell phones often fail, so alternative phone systems are needed. Roads become impassable, so emergency supplies have to be stored closer to hospitals. Back-up generators are vital for cooling and diagnostic equipment, especially in summer, when hurricanes tend to strike.” HCA’s press release about their efforts is here.