Medical Conference: Health Care In Wake Of Katrina

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

October 25, 2006

Hurricane Katrina left the health care system in shambles and many Americans in need of life saving medications. University of Virginia physicians volunteered to help and they said what they experienced has changed both their lives and their work.

When Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans in 2005, it left in its wake human suffering on a scale the U.S. hadn't seen in decades.

"Patients that had suffered heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, common things that at this day and age we shouldn't be seeing," said Associate Professor of Medicine at UVa, Dr. Ross Isaacs.

Six months later, three UVa doctors and one nurse made the trip down south to volunteer their services. In the conference they discussed how they visited months after the storm, yet those in need were still suffering and not getting the medications they needed to survive.

"It was like scenes from Africa or developing countries and many of these people went without medication six months later," said Dr. Isaacs.

In one week they saw over 19,000 patients. However, out of the devastation came signs of hope. On Dr. Isaac's first day, he met a patient named Ronald who had lost everything, but turned his pain into compassion.

"Ronald moved me in a tremendous way. Ronald buried his mother that day, came back two days later and volunteered at our clinic for the rest of the week. The emphasis should be on people like Ronald and that is what we are here for," said Dr. Isaacs.

That is something the physicians will take with them throughout their life and career.

"It makes me want to help change this process for the future for the people who may be in the same situation again," said UVa Nurse Practitioner Audrey Snyder.

The doctors believe better health care access and better coverage for the working poor would help prevent this type of medical disaster from happening again.

Just last week, Louisiana proposed revamping the New Orleans Public Health System, which will provide a type of insurance for the poor that will give them more choices in where they receive care.

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