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The Lessons of Hurricane Katrina: How New Orleans Transformed Its Healthcare

Hurricane Katrina was a defining event for so many. Ten years later, I reflect on the key learnings from those dark days and how New Orleans has overcome tremendous odds to bring about progressive changes in healthcare.
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Hurricane Katrina was a defining event for so many. Ten years later, I reflect on the key learnings from those dark days and how New Orleans has overcome tremendous odds to bring about progressive changes in healthcare.

Post-Katrina, the New Orleans' healthcare infrastructure was in disrepair. It was filled with extreme challenges such as flooding, supply shortages, power outages, minimal communications, and lean healthcare staff that tested capabilities.

As a leader at one of only three hospitals to remain open during and after Katrina, I witnessed firsthand the people who worked tirelessly to care for anyone that needed care - first responders, stranded residents, the National Guard. Those individuals demonstrated the courage that would carry us forward as an organization. Knowing that New Orleans needed a stable healthcare system to care for its people as they returned to rebuild their lives, we took responsibility and chose to lead the revitalization of healthcare in the region.

This was the start to repairing the healthcare industry so that the current and future patient care needs could be met. It was an opportunity to recruit and train talent who were interested in making New Orleans even better and healthier than before. In fact, following the storm, people came from all over the country to rebuild New Orleans, to be part of something bigger than themselves - and many stayed. That new energy was essential as we worked side by side to clear away the devastation. It has taken years and the commitment of healthcare professionals across the city has never wavered. They should be commended for their heroism and service during that difficult time and over the years since.

In fact, those same people who came to rebuild and stayed are part of organizations like Ochsner that are now thriving, even as the healthcare sector continues to undergo a period of tremendous change. Driven by patients, employers and governments who are increasingly cost-conscious, it's also facing a growing need for innovations that improve the quality and affordability of patient care.

We are now seeing more partnerships between public and private entities to improve the wellness and healthcare available to communities not only in New Orleans, but across the state and in fact the country. This is a good thing, as patients now enjoy more choices and greater opportunities to manage their own health than ever before. But it does mean that we have to be ready for this constant change. Our families, friends, neighbors, as well as businesses and governments are counting on our leaders to help shape the future of healthcare.

Did you know that within the past year 400,000 patients from all 50 states and 99 countries have traveled to New Orleans and Ochsner for care? That the number one liver transplant program; one of fewer than 10 hospitals able to perform in utero surgery to repair spina bifida defect, one of the top neuroendocrine tumor programs?

We take pride in helping our city becoming a leading national and global healthcare destination for patients seeking a higher level of medical expertise. We are constantly evolving to meet the needs of a new world in healthcare, and continue to capitalize on opportunities to be innovative and creative about how we educate and care for our patients, especially those suffering from chronic diseases. A broad spectrum of partners from the community have worked together to improve population health by opening over 70 neighborhood health clinics to address the ongoing need for primary care and disease prevention so that residents now have more access to care. These are just a few examples of the exponential progress New Orleans has made within the healthcare industry.

Over the past decade, New Orleans has shifted its focus to an overall prevention and wellness approach to healthcare across the board. We are proud to live in a city surrounded by people who have demonstrated incredible resilience. It gives me great personal pride to have been part of such an unprecedented effort. I want to thank and recognize all the people who came together and demonstrated tremendous courage and compassion. That spirit lives on today.

Healthcare is a critical piece of our quality of life here, and we take pride in the fact that patients and physicians from across the country and around the world choose to come to our city and to Ochsner - a national and global destination for healthcare, right here in our own backyard.