Book about hospital during Hurricane Katrina warns of failing to prepare

By Chris Dunham, director of emergency management for Upstate University Hospital

5days“Five days at Memorial” by Sheri Fink is an amazing book, and I cannot recommend it enough. While Katrina is still relatively fresh in our collective memories I continue to be awestruck at the number of obstacles the staff at Memorial Baptist had to overcome.

The first part of this book details Katrina’s initial impact on Memorial Hospital. Sheri Fink details both the lackluster preparedness and the chaotic response in amazing detail of not only what went wrong but the assumptions regarding what should have happened.  In this book we get to spend time with not only the clinical staff but administration, support staff and all the others who played a critical role.

From an emergency preparedness standpoint one of the many items that really surprised me was the lack of hospital based incident command integration in to the local and state response partners by not only the Memorial itself but its parent corporation Tenet.  They both seemed to fumble almost every opportunity to obtain request critical resources and rescue assistance in the aftermath of the storm.

The second half of the book deals with each staff members lives become more complicated as various authorities believed that several physicians had euthanized patients.    We spend time with the patient’s families which paint an interesting picture of what they endured during and after the storm.  One of the more interesting parts of this book is a discussion regarding end of life procedures for medical staff members during a disaster.  The book uses recent studies as well as personal stories from Super storm Sandy in New York City to detail examples when scarce critical resources becomes a determining factor on which patients should receive care and for how long.

Emergency Management is at its core a process that enables rational, organized groups of leaders to come together and develop realistic plans in order to overcome events that could cripple an organization.   The monumental obstacles presented to Memorial Hospital during Katrina offers real insight in the fragile state of a complex healthcare organization’s ability to withstand a disaster of significant duration.

In my opinion, “Five days at Memorial” should be required reading for everyone at Upstate as it is a stark and well written account of a significant event in American history as well as a graphic warning to all those who fail to prepare.

Hear an interview with Dunham about emergency management.


This entry was posted in community, emergency medicine/trauma. Bookmark the permalink.