Denis Paquin  /  AP
A medical worker, left, checks an incoming patient's blood pressure in a makeshift triage area outside the Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss., Sept. 2.
updated 9/2/2005 3:34:53 PM ET 2005-09-02T19:34:53

Diabetes and a heart condition were hard enough to manage, but when Tommy Padgett’s kidneys began to fail, his ex-wife sought help.

Brenda Biehl went to the only place she could think of Thursday, hoping that Hancock Medical Center would still be standing after Hurricane Katrina.

“We just took a chance and came here,” she said as Padgett was put in an ambulance to be treated at a hospital in Mobile, Ala. “They’ve never left before.”

And they didn’t this time.

Hancock Medical Center rode out Katrina, a contingency plan that hospital officials don’t regret.

“Once you’ve been out there and seen your home is either there or it isn’t, you come back,” hospital administrator Hal Leftwich said. “Most of us got into this profession to help people.”

The hospital’s floors were slick with mud and an oatmeal-like mush from fallen ceiling tiles but the emergency room was in business, staffed by disaster relief crews from Iowa and Missouri and employees who couldn’t help but return.

Leftwich was among the employees and patients who endured Katrina at the hospital, built to withstand 150-mph winds. What Leftwich did not anticipate was a storm surge that quickly flooded the first floor early Monday.

Medicine running low
In the first 12 hours after the storm, the staff treated 150 people, mostly with chronic conditions. Then came traumatic injuries. By Thursday afternoon, about 800 people had been treated and Leftwich considered his hurricane preparation plan a success.

“The plan did what the plan was supposed to do, but we never anticipated this kind of need,” he said.

Leftwich said he has questioned his decision to stay through the storm, “but if we had evacuated, we wouldn’t be here for all these people.”

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With 200 to 300 patients a day, medicine remains an urgent need, particularly insulin and drugs for heart and blood pressure conditions.

“We’re exhausting our supply,” Dr. Ronnie Ali said.

Some patients have drugs but find themselves sicker after a dose, their bodies weakened from exhaustion, dehydration and lack of food.

“Some of these people are on six or seven medicines,” Ali said. “It’s a big problem. We need help.”

But Biehl, who lost her home and everything in it, got the help she needed.

“When you have nothing, at least you have here to come.”

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