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HEALTH CRISIS

Hospitals struggling to evacuate patients

MILWAUKEE -- Evacuations resumed yesterday at some of New Orleans's most troubled hospitals, where desperate doctors were being forced to make tough choices about which patients received some of the dwindling supplies of food, water, and medicines.

Rescuers finally made it into Charity Hospital, the largest public hospital and trauma center in the city, where gunshots prevented efforts on Thursday to evacuate more than 250 patients.

''We moved all of the babies out of Charity this morning," said Keith Simon, spokesman for Acadian Ambulance Service Inc.

''Our morgue at Big Charity is full and it is under water," said Don Smithburg, CEO of the Louisiana State University hospital system, which oversees the two public hospitals.

He said the morgue had 12 bodies, and five others were stacked in a stairwell -- in both cases under water. Other bodies were in other parts of the hospital.

As for the doctors and nurses: ''Some of them are on the brink of unable to cope any longer."

He said some areas are out of food and water. ''Some of my staff are giving each other intravenous fluids," Smithburg said.

A very different scenario seemed to have unfolded across the street at Tulane University Hospital, a private facility operated by one of the country's largest for-profit hospital companies, the Hospital Corporation of America. Even before the storm, which flooded the hospital in 6 to 8 feet of water, the company began arrangements to rent 20 private helicopters from around the country.

By yesterday, the hospital had evacuated 200 patients and 1,100 relatives and employees. The hospital also flew in its own security force, satellite phones, food, water, batteries, and linens, said spokesman Jeff Prescott. He said that, on Thursday, Charity employees began bringing their 50 most critically ill patients across the street to Tulane, which evacuated them.

He said the company turned the helicopters over to Charity yesterday. He said Tulane University Hospital sent them food and water during the week, but, he said, ''we had to get our patients out."

At one point, state and local authorities tried to commandeer Tulane's helicopters.

Relatives of Dr. L. Lee Hamm, chairman of medicine at Tulane University, reported that they received a text message from him around midday yesterday, confirming that evacuations were taking place at Charity Hospital.

''We're starting to make some headway," said Knox Andress, an emergency room nurse in Shreveport, La.

He and others remained most concerned about University Hospital, where about 500 family and staff members joined 110 very ill patients and hundreds of others from the general community needing evacuation.

Paula Dees of Tallahassee, Fla., said her father, Dr. Oscar Ballester, called her yesterday morning from University Hospital, where he and his wife, Dr. Gabriela Ballester, have been working since Saturday.

''They're just begging for help," Dees said.

Her father is diabetic and has only about a day's supply of insulin left, she said.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross sent two teams of four doctors each to the Gulf Coast yesterday afternoon to offer public health support to doctors in more than 300 emergency shelters. The teams will set up surveillance systems to track potential disease outbreaks, said Dr. Gregg Greenough, a Brigham and Women's Hospital doctor assisting the Red Cross.

The group includes Dr. Hilarie Cranmer, a Brigham and Women's Hospital emergency room physician who spent weeks in Indonesia assisting victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Globe staff reporters Liz Kowalczyk and Marcella Bombardieri contributed to this report.

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