Scripps CEO Notes from Katrina

Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder's Journal

Read excerpts taken from Chris Van Gorder’s daily e-mails to Scripps Employees about the Scripps medical team relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

Day 1: Tuesday, Sept. 13-The team treated more than 500 patients on our first day. Four of our physicians and four of our nurses were dispatched to St. Agnes Church where a reported 500 evacuees were waiting for community services but when our team arrived at the church, they observed a line of evacuees that went on and on and on and estimated the crowd was closer to one thousand people – all in line waiting to speak with agencies about services they critically needed.

Day 2: Wednesday, Sept. 14-It was reported today that 5,985 evacuees are still residing in Houston-area shelters: 1,068 in the Astrodome; 2,021 in the Reliant Center; 1,069 in the Convention Center and 1,827 in 26 Red Cross shelters. There are also 50,623 evacuees in 452 hotels occupying 15,623 rooms. Unfortunately, these are not statistics. These are people. In fact, about 250 of the evacuees are children who have not yet located their parents or guardians.

The waits are so long that patients are “created.” We cared for a 34-year-old man today with gout who told us he waited in line for seven hours yesterday. One of our physicians walked the long line today, engaging the survivors in conversation and giving frequent therapeutic hugs. Another physician took care of a woman about to deliver her baby while waiting in line. After a quick checkup, she was sent to the hospital to deliver her newborn. Another one of our physicians found enough time to go to the second floor of the Convention Center to read stories to children.

Day 4: Friday, Sept. 16 -Today, a 76-year-old woman in line at St. Agnes Church with shortness of breath was brought into the facility to be seen by our doctors. After being evaluated our cardiologist, she was transferred to the Convention Center clinic. While she did have some cardiac problems, her problems were exacerbated by her own Katrina disaster. You see, this woman was able to get out of New Orleans before the flood, but her 51-year-old son did not. He was able to get to the New Orleans Sports Arena though, where he spent several very difficult days. Eventually he was put on a bus to be evacuated from New Orleans but this was the bus that overturned and he was killed – the only person to die in the accident. Our patient has been extremely distraught over the loss of her son. She told us that just before the hurricane, the summer flowers had started to die. She said that she actually likes this time of year because she enjoys tilling the soil – because good soil always brings back fresh flowers in the spring. She went on to say that perhaps this was going to be the time for her to till the soil of her life to see what will come out of that soil in the spring. She was transported to a local hospital and when she left, she looked much better and calmer than she did when she arrived. As she left, I watched the tears accumulate in the eyes of our nurse who cared and comforted her.

Day 7: Monday, Sept. 19 -One thing we have begun to expect is a “fluid” and constantly changing environment. That is certainly true for the second week of our deployment. First Lady Laura Bush toured the George R. Brown Convention Center today. Even though the First Lady was surrounded by her Secret Service escort and other officials when she walked through the medical facility, she stopped to specifically thank Scripps for our contributions and help to the Katrina survivors. Looks like our efforts have been noticed – even in the White House.

Day 8: Tuesday, Sept.20 -Today we started treating patients at the Hong Kong Clinic where there were lines of Vietnamese patients (also Katrina survivors) who started a new line behind every Scripps staff member who moved. While our doctors conducted health screenings (language was a challenge) our nurses gave immunizations. We gave about 300 immunizations today, and we were hoping to do another 1,000 tomorrow.

Day 9: Wednesday, Sept. 21-(Hurricane Rita forces evacuation of Houston and an early end to Scripps’ mission) By the time we returned to our hotel, Rita was a Category 5 hurricane. We recalled our people from the community clinics and sent shuttles to pick them up. This took some time, as a few of the clinics are more than an hour away from the Convention Center.As the teams returned, they reported feeling bittersweet. While happy to be going home after completing the mission, several had to leave the clinics before they closed for the day. The looks and comments from permanent staff at the centers and patients made it a difficult and frustrating departure. Even the FEMA manager commented that he was concerned they would not be able to care for the survivors as well as we had.