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Louisiana Hospital Workers Struggle with Flood Recovery

News  |  By John Commins  
   August 24, 2016

Louisiana Hospital Association President and CEO Paul Salles says hospital services could face months of disruption as thousands of stressed-out employees struggle to put their lives back together.

The waters are receding in flood-stricken Louisiana, but for many residents there the nightmare has just begun.

By some estimates, more than 60,000 homes have been damaged, prompting hundreds of thousands of residents to find temporary housing with family, friends, or at shelters.

So far, at least 106,000 people have registered for federal disaster aid, including many who work at hospitals in the afflicted areas. Louisiana Hospital Association President and CEO Paul Salles spoke with HealthLeaders Media about the recovery efforts. The following is an edited transcript.

HLM: How many hospitals were damaged in the flooding?

Salles: The damage to hospitals, from a property perspective, was fairly minimal. The impact to the hospitals primarily is to their staff. We're hearing that more than 5,000 hospital employees have been impacted.

The floods really impacted about 20 parishes in south Louisiana and we are receiving estimates from hospitals now that as many as 25% to 30% of their employees, and some even more than that, have been impacted severely with flooding in their homes.

HLM: Has attendance been a problem?

Salles: Attendance is a big problem. Obviously in this past week, and in the weeks to come, people's ability to get to work will be a challenge. But they're also dealing with a home that has had three or four feet of water in it and that will continue to be a huge issue.

We had areas of south Louisiana that received 20 to 30 inches of rain over a couple of days. Many of the areas that were flooded were not in historical flood areas, so many of the people don't have flood insurance. The rebuilding effort is going to be particularly challenging because there are going to be a lot of people relying on their own personal assets to rebuild their homes.

HLM: Have these employees' issues affected hospital operations?

Salles: Yes. Most of the hospitals in the flood areas are working short-staffed. The other big impact from a workforce perspective is a lot of schools are closed. Kids are not back in school.

HLM: Do you anticipate a lengthy recover period?

Salles: There's going to be a lasting impact as these employees try to re-establish their lives. That's going to be the challenge. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, folks were able to keep staff that were at the hospital, as they do in these kinds of disasters, because the ability to get to and from the hospitals in the immediate aftermath was nearly impossible because of road flooding.

They managed through the immediacy. Now comes the long-term issue of how people rebuild their lives and continue to be productive in their jobs and meeting the needs of the community as well.

HLM: Were lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina applied here?

Salles: I think so. We certainly have grown in our emergency preparedness. The immediate issues were handled well. In many respects that is why it wasn't as big of a news story as you might have had after Katrina, where there were a lot of issues.

The immediate disaster was managed very well from a healthcare perspective. Hospitals worked well together. They transferred patients when necessary. All of that worked well. Now we are dealing with the long-term impact on the resources that hospitals rely on to deliver services.

HLM: How do you see the recovery effort playing out in the coming months?

Salles: The big concern is that the employees and the economy are going to be severely impacted as people rebuilt. Certainly we will work not only on getting federal resources, but we are trying to raise money to help individual employees of hospitals. It will be critical to help those folks get back on their feet.

(The Louisiana Hospital Association has established the Louisiana Hospital Employee Assistance Fund for hospital employees who've suffered property losses to their homes. All tax-deductible contributions to the fund will go directly to hospital employees with no administrative costs deducted. To be eligible for assistance, full-time or part-time employees must have experienced flood damage to their residences in a parish that received a disaster declaration from the federal government.)

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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