New Orleans Health Care Heads in New Direction

One of the first community clinics established after Katrina recently got a big boost from a New Orleans institution. Owners of Ruth's Chris Steak House, a national chain that started in New Orleans, donated the original restaurant building to serve as the clinic's new, enlarged facility.

The community clinics have begun to shift New Orleans' health care model away from hospital-based care, particularly for indigent and uninsured patients.

"We're testing the waters of innovative ideas for drawing people away from hospitals and into the community," said DeSalvo. "We've also done some interesting things with payment models. The payment model is along the lines of the retainer model, rather than fee for service, and I can tell you that it works."

"The other experiment we've been undertaking is in workforce training and thinking about how we can create a robust environment where students of all disciplines can train together," she added. "We don't just do medical student training here. We also do training for nursing, social work, pharmacy, and we have public health students."

The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced plans to build a new hospital in New Orleans.

LSU is moving forward with plans for a new hospital to replace Charity. As currently conceived, the hospital would be part of a multipurpose medical complex located outside downtown New Orleans.

The Ochsner Health System has acquired several New Orleans-area hospitals, including Memorial Medical Center, adding some security and stability to the city's health care services.

New Perspectives, Too

The adversity of Hurricane Katrina also has changed the people who provide health care services in New Orleans. Medical students and resident physicians, in particular, have a different view about their roles as health care providers of the future. Medical school applications have increased dramatically at Tulane, as has interest in coming to New Orleans for residency training.

In contrast to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which faced adversity following Hurricane Ike in 2008, the pace of recovery in New Orleans has been more gradual, in terms of facilities. But, in terms of people, Katrina's effect occurred almost immediately and seems destined to be a lasting one.

"The men and women who came back after the storm were some of the most courageous people I have ever had the fortune to work with," said Dr. Benjamin Sachs, who came to New Orleans two years after Katrina to be dean of medicine at Tulane.

"I realized on my first interview that there was an atmosphere, a drive, a spirit, a whole new screen to paint a totally different picture of the kind of care we want to provide," Sachs said of the health care providers who lived through the destruction and recovery.

"The students grew as human beings," he added. "I think they will make better doctors because they learned resilience. They learned that when life throws you a curve ball that you really didn't expect, that you can overcome it and come back. They also were being taught by people of courage, and that gets into your marrow."

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