Don't Forget Katrina's Mississippi Victims

Dear Editor: This e-mail is in response to “Katrina Aftermath,” [by Robert F. Orsetti, Letters to the Editor, September/October 2005] which I just ran across while doing some research. I didn't receive that issue because, as a Pascagoula, Miss., citizen, I didn't receive mail for the four weeks after Hurricane Katrina, and mail that came to the Gulf Coast immediately around the time of Katrina just disappeared.

The heading “Katrina Aftermath” caught my attention, and Orsetti's letter really struck me, because as the director of the most active CME program on the Gulf Coast, I have not heard from my CME colleagues. Most other groups within our hospital system have received massive support from colleagues across the state, region, and nation, but the CME community has been dead silent along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I, however, did receive an e-mail from the director of CME with the Mississippi State Medical Association shortly after the storm.

Even though we had very limited choices of meeting locales, I felt the need to bring the devastated physician community together though CME activities. The response to the first activity, held in October, was astonishing! We met upstairs in a restaurant that we often use, and, for the first time since Katrina came ashore, the physicians felt a sense of normalcy in their lives. Probably 25 percent of our medical staff lost everything but the concrete slab on which their homes stood; 100 percent incurred some losses, which ranged from home flooding to wind damage. Yes, we have been a devastated community, but we continue to stay strong. As I write this, we're five weeks away from the anniversary of Katrina, and clearly, life will never be the same, but we continue to persevere and, when possible, continue to find normalcy through the CME program.

FEMA trailers have replaced million-dollar homes on the beach, priorities have changed, lives are filled with strange and new after-work activities — clearing lots, cleaning storm-soaked items (if you were lucky enough to find anything), waiting in line for everything, fighting with insurance companies, filling out forms, waiting for contractors and subcontractors, and on and on. But the one thing that has not changed is the dedication of our physicians to caring for their patients. Every day they listen to the stories of loss and despair that patients bring into the exam room; all the while the physicians are probably dealing with greater losses and greater despair. What an amazing group of professionals.

The Singing River Hospital System CME program has continued to move forward these past 11 months. Pharmaceutical support has been hard to come by, because if you're not in New Orleans, the grant committees don't think you're in need. I applied to one of the larger pharmaceutical companies for an educational grant in support of a conference that was intended for all [types of] specialists along the Gulf Coast. I was well within the time frame for the grant, but was told that I should have applied for the grant in September! When I told the grant committee representative that I didn't have a computer, Internet, phones, etc., her reply was that she couldn't make exceptions for our CME program when all we had was “a little residual clean-up from Katrina.” I was floored by the level of ignorance about what was going on along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This was not an isolated incident. The pharmaceutical industry has had a golden opportunity in the past year to step up to the plate and support CME at its best in the worst of times. The problem is, industry is too worried about conflicts of interest and political correctness to recognize the tragedy faced by the medical community.

You must realize that most of the annual CME activities coming out of New Orleans were canceled, and almost all of the other Gulf Coast CME providers have been unable to continue a normal schedule, so our program needed to fill the gap as best it could. I'm still battling day to day, but I truly believe that CME is vital to the good health, survival, and recovery of our medical community and, in turn, our community as a whole.

I'm not whining, just disappointed that the CME community didn't do a needs assessment, see an opportunity for improvement, and evaluate the potential for a positive outcome. Maybe everyone is just too obsessed with conflicts of interest to see the real value in continuing medical education to the medical profession. The Gulf Coast still has a long road to recovery — I ask that you not forget us.
Gloria King, MEd
Director, Office of CME
Singing River Hospital
Pascagoula, Miss.

Editors' Note: To find out how to help, e-mail Gloria King at gking@srhshealth.com.

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