[StBernard] Medical changes may be on way for Chalmette

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri Aug 1 10:33:30 EDT 2008

Medical changes may be on way for Chalmette
Advocate New Orleans bureau
Published: Aug 1, 2008 - Page: 16A - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
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CHALMETTE - In the waiting room of a pharmacy recently, Julia Patino, 52, of
Poydras, pondered a difficult choice - home or health.

Between labored breaths, the freight of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and
heart trouble, Patino said, "I love St. Bernard Parish, but we need a

Almost three years after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans'
rural-suburban neighbor with up to 20 feet of water, St. Bernard has no
medical facility and, by all local accounts, too few doctors - especially

Ever since Katrina destroyed the 185 beds at Chalmette Medical Center, the
only semblance of a health-care center is a network of FEMA trailers in a
vacant shopping center.

Six doctors and a nurse staff a walk-in clinic operated by Baton Rouge-based
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Other trailers house a mental
health clinic and C & C's pharmacy where Patino waits for her prescriptions.

The nearest hospitals are in the surrounding parishes of Orleans, Jefferson
or St. Tammany.

"All are at least 25 minutes away from the heart of Chalmette," said Krista
Kamlade, a pharmacist at C & C's, who is pregnant with her second child.

If the Claiborne bridge in the nearby 9th Ward is out of commission, an
ambulance trip to a New Orleans hospital would take even longer, she said.

There were 26 primary care physicians in the parish before Katrina, but only
10 this week, according to state Department of Health and Hospital figures.
DHH also reported 17 "non-primary care" physicians in St. Bernard
pre-Katrina and 26 medical specialists last week - an increase that Kamlade

"There's no way - unless they are counting dentists," she said.

St. Bernard's pre-storm population of 67,000 has dropped by at least half,
since Katrina, according to varying estimates. Many doctors have relocated.

"Medical people don't want to come here until they see more of the
population return, but some people won't come back until they see some
medical facilities," Kamlade said. "It's a catch-22."

Change may be on the way.

St. Bernard may begin breaking ground on a new community hospital by the end
of 2008, said Daniel Dysart, chairman of the parish's special Hospital
Service District.

"We voted last night to put out RFPs (requests for proposals) for managers"
of the hospital, Dysart said, of the five-member volunteer board, which was
created by the Legislature to build a new hospital for the parish.

The district may advertise as early as next week for management of the $25
million facility, which will be built with federal funds.

"With the RFP going out and with manager selection, possibly in the next 45
to 60 days &hellip I'm hoping for groundbreaking by the end of the year,"
Dysart said "Once that is done, we'll be off and running."

He said population has been a "really big issue" for the panel, which meets
weekly in a FEMA trailer once occupied by the Parish Council. A
district-funded study by the Price Waterhouse consulting firm estimates St.
Bernard's population between 25,000 to 30,000 - down from 67,000,

"They are projecting a population of 50,000 in the next five years," Dysart
said of the consultants.

Based on that estimate, he said, the new hospital would need "45 to 60

Our Lady of the Lake and Oschner Health Care Systems have both expressed
interest in the management of the proposed hospital, records show.

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