An estimated 2,500 hospitalized patients were waiting yesterday afternoon to be removed from New Orleans as rising floodwaters in the central city forced a general evacuation.
Many of the patients were the most critically ill, who could not be readily evacuated over the weekend before Hurricane Katrina struck the city, but others are injured survivors who sought help after the initial impact of the storm on the city.
Many of the patients will be taken temporarily to an emergency evacuation center that has been set up on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, 75 miles northwest of New Orleans.
Nearly 500 patients from three Tenet hospitals that have been closed will be taken to that company's North Shore Regional Medical Center in Slidell, La., said company spokesman Steven Campanini. Most of them will be sent on to Brooklyn Medical Center in Birmingham, Ala.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has identified 2,600 hospital beds in 12 surrounding states where the patients could be taken, said Bill Hall, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. FEMA has also identified about 40,000 available beds nationwide "should that ever be needed," he said.
FEMA is sending 40 complete field hospitals into the area, Hall said, but so far, only one has been set up - a 250-bed facility at Louisiana State. The others will be scattered around the region where needed over the next week, he said.
Thirty-eight physicians from HHS are staffing the LSU field hospital for now. Hall said an additional 4,000 health care providers will be brought in this week to staff the other facilities.
At the moment, FEMA is not seeking other volunteers, Hall said.
Some patients are being treated in the hospital aboard the Navy's amphibious assault ship Bataan, which sailed into the area this week. Helicopters from the ship have been helping with search and rescue.
The Navy hospital ship Comfort sailed from Baltimore yesterday for New Orleans, but it is not expected to arrive for seven days.