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9/7/2005
02:12 PM
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New Orleans Hospital Turned Into Command Center To Monitor Katrina Health Issues

Kindred Hospital's electronic health records are safe in backup facilities and available for evacuated patients.

After the last 54 acute-care patients at Kindred Hospital in New Orleans were evacuated last Friday with the help of military guards fending off looters and snipers, government officials designated the facility as the nerve center for public-health monitoring in the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"We had sustained some damage [from the hurricane and subsequent flooding], but we're a usable facility," says Rick Chapman, executive VP, chief administrative officer, and CIO at Kindred Healthcare Inc., which is based in Louisville, Ky., but operates Kindred Hospital in New Orleans, as well as 71 other long-term acute-care hospitals and nursing homes in 24 states.

Once the last patients at Kindred Hospital were evacuated and airlifted to Houston and Baton Rouge, state and federal officials moved in their own equipment and computer systems to transform the facility into a "forward command" center that's monitoring and managing the public-health crisis posed by the toxic floodwaters.

"They brought in and are using all their own systems," Chapman says, despite the presence of the hospital's existing IT infrastructure that supports electronic medical record systems and other clinical and administrative applications, he says.

Many health-care facilities in New Orleans have undoubtedly lost hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of paper medical records in the hurricane and floods. Kindred stores E-medical records locally, but also duplicates them on a central server and backup systems off site. This has allowed Kindred to electronically send copies of evacuated patients' records to other Kindred facilities to which they were moved. In cases where patients were evacuated to a non-Kindred facility, Kindred was able to print out the records and ship them overnight, Chapman says.

It's likely that the New Orleans hospital will remain the government's forward command center for Hurricane Katrina cleanup and public-health monitoring for months, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman says.

The hospital's evacuation of patients, "many of whom are the sickest of the sick," was "harrowing," Chapman says. Looters broke into another hospital across the street to steal drugs, so military and Kindred guards were needed to protect patients from looters and snipers in the area, he says. "It was pretty intense, but we were able to get everyone out safely," he says.

The forward command post is staffed by Coast Guard officials, as well as teams from government agencies, including Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and federal, city, and state public-health departments. The New Orleans public health department has also relocated its operations to the facility. Epidemiologists will conduct water-sample tests and monitor outbreaks of diseases that could occur in the flood's aftermath, the HHS spokesman says.

In addition to the forward command center, the U.S. health department is using a high-tech mobile command center in Baton Rouge, La., and the central "secretary's command center" at HHS headquarters in Washington, D.C., to monitor the post-hurricane health situation in the city.

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