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Ruin and Recovery: Flooding, Security Worried Mark Peters

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“I was at the hospital the Saturday before Katrina and stayed there for two weeks. At that time, I lived in Kenner and was able to get home to check on things the Thursday after the storm.

“Personally, I was very, very fortunate. When I got home, I was shocked but most relieved and grateful to see that I had only a few shingles off my roof — nothing else.

“At first, the extent of the flooding in East Jefferson and the breaching of the levees in New Orleans was unclear to me, to all of us who were at the hospital. None of us realized the extent of what was happening until we saw water about 50 yards from the entrance to the hospital.

mark peters

“A few of us went to the top of the West Esplanade Avenue parking garage, and all we could see was water, water everywhere. It is an image I will never forget.

“Of course, my concern was for our patients and the staff. We had 200 patients in the hospital at that time. And the immediate challenge we faced was that the power kept going off and on, even with the use of a generator.

“Then I began to worry about the issue of security. So on the Thursday after Katrina, the National Guard came to the hospital. And on the same day, it looked like we would finally have the air conditioning fully up and running. My morale began to lift a bit.

“A few days later, other employees were finally able to get to the hospital to work. And eventually, we were able to rotate out those nurses, doctors, and other essential personnel who had been at the hospital for days before, during, and after the storm. They needed to get home and assess their own personal situations.

“The hospital did have some roof damage. There was also roof damage along with some minor flooding problems in the two medical office buildings, but all and all, the facility as a whole did OK. We had no major damage.

“East Jefferson, along with Ochsner and West Jefferson hospitals, were the only three hospitals opened the days and weeks following Katrina and available for patient care. It was a challenge. And as time went by, the next challenge that we, the medical community, faced was financial. It’s still a challenge, but we are doing the best we can.

“The hospital continues to move forward. A new computer system was implemented in 2006, just a few months after Katrina. It was a challenging time, but I felt we needed to move forward with this new system, which was originally set to begin in the fall of 2005.

“Collectively, I think we learned a lot from Katrina and have made great strides in a number of areas. The levees are in better shape, and the response time from emergency management personnel and other officials has improved as well.

“Coming from a small town in Ohio, New Orleans is more like a big city to me. Yet there is this sense of community here, a real feeling of family wherever you go. It’s unique to this area, and I don’t think it really exists anywhere else.”