A Winston-Salem Physician On Katrina

Ken AshfordDisastersLeave a Comment

Via The Left Coaster, reprinted in full:

I would like to know why I and so many other physicians told to stay home when they offered to provide medical care for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Like most Americans, I watched in horror. I also felt helpless, guilty, and ashamed at what I saw. By Wednesday, I knew – didn’t the President know? — that this was the worst disaster in American history.

I also knew that every possible resource should be summoned immediately if not sooner. I wanted to help. My First call was to SORT (Special Operations Response Team), because it is primarily a medical team based in my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And I was told that the SORT team had already been deployed and I could not help, that I would need six months of special training.

I argued, “But I am a surgeon, and those people need all the help they can get now."

They suggested I call the Red Cross.

When I called the Red Cross I told them that I would do anything that would help. They said 50 Winston-Salem volunteers had already been sent and that at least another 50 had already expressed a desire to go. The Red Cross response was totally unbelievable they told me the next training class is next week on September 7th. I told her “Issues of credentialing and red tape have to be thrown out in this case; those people need our help and they need it now."

I argued and pleaded with officials; I had travel arrangements made! When I was finally able to reach the Regional Director of the Red Cross in Raleigh, I was informed that Red Cross is not involved in medical care and it was suggested that she call FEMA.

I never got through to FEMA though if I tried once, I tried a hundred times through a variety of numbers. I spent 2 days on the phone.

Finally I called my Senator’s office, Senator Richard Burr, NC. I asked if his office could find out where I could be of help and how I would go about it. I was given a telephone number for an emergency response group in Washington. I never got through to them. And I never heard back from FEMA.

I am very ashamed that Americans could suffer and die on American soil while physicians trying to get to them were told to stay home.

I and many of my colleagues in the medical profession across the nation were told over and over again stay home.

At a time of national disaster with so many lives at stake, how is it possible that medical professionals were rebuffed by credentialing, red tape and poor communication issues from several different emergency response groups?

I am amazed, I am angry and I am sad.

The red tape response the medical community received should make all of us angry and asking for answers.

How many people have died because they would not let us go? Yes, we need to fix the levies and rebuild New Orleans, because that is who we are.

But more importantly, we need to look each other in the eye and ask, “Where did we go wrong?”, because that is also who we are.

By Jamie Koufman, M.D., F.A.C.S., Director Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders of Wake Forest University Professor of Surgery (Otolaryngology) Wake Forest University Health Sciences Posted by Jamie Koufman M.D. at September 7, 2005 07:28 AM [Emphasis mine]