Video: New Orleans health care system suffering

By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/23/2007 7:32:46 PM ET 2007-04-23T23:32:46

In New Orleans you can wait up to eight hours to see a doctor, and up to two days for a hospital bed.

"Our waiting times, our access, the demands for services is literally boiling over the brim," says Touro Infirmary's chief medical officer, Kevin Jordan.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the New Orleans metro area has five fewer hospitals, and more than 2,600 fewer staffed hospital beds. And that's not all.

"We just don't have the personnel to take care of those patients in the hospital," says Dr. J.S. Guarisco of Oschsner Clinic.

There is a critical shortage of nurses. Many have left for cities where there is better housing, better schools and better pay. To replace them, hospitals are going to extremes.

"The only place we found any quantity is in the Philippines and India," says Jack Finn of the Metropolitan Hospital Council of New Orleans. "We are bringing them in from out of the country."

Uninsured patients also flood the system because Katrina took away jobs and health care coverage. At one free clinic in New Orleans East, patients show up early — some sign up as early as 2 or 3 in the morning. And even though the clinic sees 75 to 100 patients daily, it can't meet demand.

Before Katrina, the uninsured would have gone to Charity, the city's only state-funded hospital. But today, Charity remains in ruins and in doubt. With no place else to go, the uninsured head for the city's remaining emergency rooms, adding to the lines and draining away money that could have paid for more space, more beds and more staff.

"Every day, every single single day, it's a struggle to make it through," says Dr. Kevin Jordan.

And he says what happened here could happen anywhere.

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