The horror story in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, played out in words and heart-wrenching photographs, is likely to be with us for months or, perhaps, years to come. It was truly incomprehensible to see hundreds of “refugees” on U.S. soil fleeing their homes with no particular destination in mind. And how do we handle the photo of the deceased elderly woman in a wheelchair, covered by only a sheet, braced against the doors of the Ernest Morial Convention Center, where many of us have participated in CME activities? That and so many other scenes of lost lives, homes, possessions, and businesses, coupled with the incomprehensibility of looting, shootings, and rapes, will be burned indelibly in our memories.
Debates will linger as to why preparations for the hurricane were insufficient: evacuations slow, disorganized, and incomplete; and rescue and relief teams unavailable or slow to respond. The answers will be left to the politicians to unscramble. Let's hope that this blow to our nation will be discussed with non-partisan candor and will result in workable plans to secure all weather-sensitive regions against future occurrences.
Intertwined with reports of destruction and despair are stories that warm the heart and brighten the future. As healthcare professionals and educators, we can only applaud the hundreds of physicians, nurses, and technicians who volunteered to assist in the storm-ravaged regions, with little foreknowledge of how they would be challenged or where they would be sent or housed. They simply wanted to do whatever they could to help others in need. Their skills were pushed to the limit as they attended to those suffering from physical and psychological trauma.
Tulane University, Louisiana State University, Charity Hospital, and so many other institutions were forced to turn away students and patients as they tried to cope in a surreal environment. Once again, ‘we the people’ responded. Medical schools, colleges, and universities; secondary and grade schools; and hospitals throughout the nation have opened their doors to assure that education continues uninterrupted and that medical care is provided until those affected can return home. Healthcare and educational providers, along with churches and charitable organizations of every stripe, have proven to be beacons of light in the post-hurricane darkness.
In the weeks and months ahead, we in the healthcare and CME professions should applaud and thank those in our midst who joined the response teams, while encouraging colleagues and friends to give to relief efforts. Through such efforts, the stricken Gulf States will be healed and repaired and human dignity returned to their citizens.
As CME professionals, we also should look for opportunities, as we did after 9/11, to educate healthcare providers about how to respond effectively to natural disasters. Programs offering instruction on dealing with bioterrorism were created after 9/11, and many of these continue today. While education on natural disasters will not erase their occurrence, educated responders will certainly be in a position to reduce the trauma by better assisting those in need. Education and advance preparation can only help. If scientists are correct that hurricanes and atmospheric disturbances are a natural consequence ofwarming, then it is logical to assume an increase in such events in the years ahead — all the more reason for educators to prepare healthcare professionals for the more efficient and effective response.
Robert F. Orsetti is assistant vice president, continuing education, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. Orsetti, a 30-year CME veteran, is a member of the AMA's National Task Force on CME Provider/Industry Collaboration. Contact him at (973) 972-8377 or send e-mail to email@example.com. For more of his columns, visit mm.meetingsnet.com.