I have to admit I feel good about being back here in New Orleans at HIMSS, and about HIMSS being back here, too.
Coming in Saturday, musicians playing drums, trombone, trumpet and sousaphone were set up near the airport baggage carousel. A couple of the new arrivals waiting for their luggage couldnt resist the music and danced just a bit.
Im sure there is an unimaginable amount of work yet to do, out in the devastated Lakeview and 9th Ward neighborhoods, well out of sight from the welcome environs of the convention center and the cluster of refurbished downtown hotels around it, including the excellent Hilton Riverside where Im staying. But people around downtownthe restaurant and convention hall workers, the police and store clerks Ive encountered thus farare going about their business.
During a ride back from dinner at Mulates on Saturday night with an IT consultant Id just met, I asked the cabbie if hed been in the city during Hurricane Katrina. He said he had. I started saying how the government should have done a better job for them and he politely acknowledged the offer of sympathy, but quickly said, You know, you just have to move forward.
My impression after one full day in the Big Easy is thats precisely what New Orleans is trying to do. There is a sadness in the air, but also resolution. Its as if the whole town had lost a loved one, but the band in the funeral procession has marched and played its dirges, and theyve all come back from the cemetery playing Dixieland. And then, deciding it could either lie down and die or go on, New Orleans has decided to go on.
It will never be the same, said Stephanie Mills, chief medical information officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La. But the physician informaticist, who was a presenter at symposium Sunday morning, also said she is working to create a regional health information organization to link New Orleans hospitals with those in Baton Rouge, something better than what either city had before the storm.
On Sunday afternoon, a sunny 75-degree day, I walked over to the elegant Windsor Court Hotel for a 1 p.m. interview. A harpist played in the sumptuously appointed lounge as three women in their mid-20s or early 30s walked into the room wearing brightly colored dresses and wide-brimmed spring hats, as if they were on their way to an afternoon tea. As it turned out, they were. They met up with a fourth woman in a bright yellow dress (and no hat) and went downstairs to a dining area where maybe 100 women, all in summer finery and most in fancy hats of many colors, sat at tables of six or so, chatting gaily over the soft music of a combo playing at the edge of the room. Aside from the modernity of their clothes, one could have expected Daisy Buchanan to float into the room and join them at any moment.
Sunday evening, HIMSS President and CEO Stephen Lieber addressed the annual senior executive reception at the classic Audubon Tea Room, which survived Katrinas onslaught.
Lieber acknowledged it had been a controversial call whether the HIMSS show could or should come back to New Orleans, but two trips to the city for due diligence convinced him it was the right thing.
What I saw from the very beginning is the spirit in this city, a spirit that said, 'We can overcome this,' " Lieber said. By 3 p.m. Sunday, 22,800 attendees had registered, he said, "a number comparable to what we had at this time a year ago" in San Diego. Roughly 900 vendors had committed to exhibiting, up about 50 from a year ago.
"Were looking at a conference that is comparable and, on top of that, weve done something for the city thats incredible," Lieber said. "It was not only the right business decision, it was the right moral decision to come to New Orleans."What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.