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OF DOCTORS AND KATRINA

On Halloween night 2005, we were heading for a party along the city’s bumpy streets. We had come in for the weekend to work on our drenched house, so the party gave us an opportunity to get away from the muck. As I weaved around the potholes I could feel a cold coming on, so I decided to stop at a drugstore. The problem was that nothing was open, although it was only 7 p.m. Not that we didn’t have enough to get angry about, but I became even angrier about the lack of services in those early days after Katrina. Many places hadn’t reopened and those that had barely had the staff to stay open very long. We were staying at the time in Marksville in Central Louisiana, and I remember thinking wistfully that there were more late night places there than in all of New Orleans.

Luckily all I had to worry about was a cold. (At the party someone slipped me a Tylenol.) Pity those with serious maladies. For the sick or the injured there were few places to go. My advice to anyone visiting New Orleans at the time was to be very careful. Health care was barely existent.

In August 2006 we published our annual Top Doctors list. It was the first serious effort after Katrina to determine who was still here, though the company that does the survey, “Best Doctors of America,” had to include a caveat explaining that many doctors had relocated and that it couldn’t account for all of them. Heath care was still hurting.

Something that has been personally painful to me is that over the last few years, three people I have known were diagnosed with a complex form of cancer. One had to practically commute to the MD Anderson in Houston for treatment, the other to Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic and the third to Philadelphia. All have since died. In addition to their sorrow the family had to add on the cost of travel. New Orleanians deserved better: It even bothers me when I hear of a Saints player needing some sort of sports injury help going to Birmingham for treatment.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the evidence seems to show that the patient is improving. In August 2004, the last time before Katrina that we published a comprehensive doctors list, there were 417 Top Physicians listed. This year’s list has exactly 500 for a total, inducing some physicians who were listed in more than one field (making the total 533 listings). A new cancer hospital is being built in downtown New Orleans and, if the planned LSU/VA hospital meets its promises, New Orleanians in the future should be able to find specialized treatment without leaving home.

By the time of Katrina’s 10th anniversary, our region should have come a long way in health care; not just in offering the basics, but also in restoring New Orleans’ earlier reputation as a medical center. We should be one of the places that people come to for help. By the way, the drug store that was closed early that Halloween night is now open 24 hours.
 

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