In the aftermath of two Gulf Coast hurricanes, Houston and Baton Rouge, La., hospitals have struggled to keep pace with increased demand, which isn't likely to go away anytime soon.
Last week, Houston hospitals were treating the bulk of the patients who were evacuated or in need of care because of the most recent hurricane, Rita. Dan Wolterman, president and chief executive officer of 11-hospital Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston, said the hospitals have been coping, but they are far busier than usual and don't see an end in sight. "We expect the demand to be quite high for a long period of time," he said.
Many of the 150,000 to 200,000 people who evacuated to Houston from Hurricane Katrina have been using emergency rooms for care. This has further stressed Houston's hospitals, which already had 34% uninsured among patients under 65 and needed 38 primary-care clinics before the hurricanes hit, Wolterman said.
Amanda Engler, a spokeswoman for the Texas Hospital Association, said Houston hospitals are still in need of workers and they will experience greater demand until all hospitals in surrounding areas are fully operational. As of the middle of last week, 11 hospitals in the six Texas cities hardest hit by Rita weren't accepting new admissions.
The U.S. Air National Guard's 147th Fighter Wing set up a 15-bed hospital in Ellington Field in Houston. But days later, its 75 workers were waiting for patients to arrive.
In the long term, Houston providers will need more outpatient care capabilities because of a greater demand for mental health services and chronic diseases, such as dialysis and diabetes care, said Scott Lillibridge, director of the Center for Biosecurity and Public Health Preparedness at the University of Texas. In response to some of those needs, the CMS granted emergency certification for dialysis provider DaVita to open four clinics in Texas, the company said.
In Baton Rouge, the community is still dealing with the surge of evacuees from the aftermath of Katrina and treating patients at temporary medical shelters (See commentary p. 32). "No one knows if any additional infrastructure will be needed," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.