Emory Report
October 3, 2005
Volume 58, Number 6


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October 3 , 2005
A healthy and whole-hearted response

Michael Johns is executive vice president for health affairs.

According to Mapquest, the distance between Atlanta and New Orleans is 469 miles. Last month, the catastrophe known as Hurricane Katrina compressed that to almost no distance at all. Although the hurricane had lost most of its fury by the time it brushed past Atlanta, we will feel its effects in the metro area for weeks, months and possibly years to come.

Our community has been working hard to shoulder our share of the burden, and not just in health care. It is fair to say the entire University has responded, driving home the point that protecting and ensuring the public’s health cannot be understood or accomplished in narrowly medical terms.

Faculty, staff and students of our Woodruff Health Sciences Center have, of course, been extensively involved. Almost immediately, as the impact of Katrina became clear, Emory Healthcare initiated twice-daily operations meetings, chaired by Emory Healthcare CEO John Fox, to manage the Katrina influx as the evacuee airlift picked up steam.

On Thursday, Sept. 1, Emory received our first airlifted medical evacuee from New Orleans, an automobile accident victim who was flown into Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County and transferred to Crawford Long Hospital. That was only the beginning. Over the next four days, Dobbins received more than 1,600 evacuees from Louisiana on both military transport and commercial flights. Dozens of Emory faculty and students were part of the screening and triage system that helped classify and route incoming evacuees.

About 40 percent of patients hospitalized in Atlanta-area hospitals ended up in Emory Hospitals or affiliates, including Crawford Long, Emory, Grady Hospital Emory-Adventist Hospital and EHCA Hospitals. More Katrina-related patients showed up at our emergency departments, some part of the airlift, many others having left New Orleans or the Gulf States on their own and now needing medical attention. All were seen and treated.

Hospitalists at Crawford Long organized “Team Katrina” to provide necessary coverage; the Department of Medicine at Grady doubled the number of faculty covering the Urgent Care Center beginning Friday and extending through the weekend.

Several Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing faculty threw themselves into organizing work with the Red Cross; nursing students joined an oncology resident to meet the surging demand at a Salvation Army shelter on N. Druid Hills Road. Emory Hospital then “adopted” this shelter and supplied nursing as well as medical coverage arranged through the School of Medicine. Emergency medicine and family and preventive medicine teams based at Grady scrambled to organize medical responses at neighborhood clinics and shelters.

The Rollins School of Public Health assembled teams of public health students to visit six metro shelters and compile daily reports, under the direction of the lead epidemiologist in the state health department.
Pastoral services committed to visiting every patient on every shift. Social services collected donations of clothing and shoes and personal care items for patients who came in with the clothes on their back and shoes that were moldy from walking through filthy water. Both departments went on double shifts.

Many efforts were made to reconnect patients with worried loved ones. Crawford Long organized a patient-locator number for evacuees located anywhere in the Emory Hospitals (404-686-3000), and Wesley Woods volunteered apartments for evacuees and accepted transfers from Crawford Long.

Equally important and impressive have been the contributions of time, money and volunteer service from all over campus. President Jim Wagner directed all schools to develop appropriate response plans. The college, graduate and professional schools have opened their classrooms to displaced students. Faculty, students and staff have volunteered for a wide array of critical tasks and have run or donated to relief materials and fund drives.

As a University, our recent planning brought forth an overwhelming, campus-wide desire to engage more with our communities, both locally and beyond. As the Katrina and Rita responses shift from an acute phase to a longer restoration and healing phase, and we all contemplate the lessons to be learned, we can be proud as Emory shows it is ready to engage whole heartedly.