Eye of the storm: Analysis of shelter treatment records of evacuees to Acadiana from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Professor of Health Information Management, Director of the Louisiana Center Health Informatics, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, Louisiana.
American journal of disaster medicine 7(4):253-271. DOI: 10.5055/ajdm.2012.0099
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study is to gain insight into the medical needs of disaster evacuees, through a review of experiential data collected in evacuation shelters in the days and weeks following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, to better prepare for similar events in the future. Armed with the information and insights provided herein, it is hoped that meaningful precautions and decisive actions can be taken by individuals, families, institutions, communities, and officials should the Louisiana Gulf Coast-or any other area with well-known vulnerabilities-be faced with a future emergency. DESIGN: Demographic and clinical data that were recorded on paper documents during triage and treatment in evacuation shelters were later transcribed into a computerized database management system, with cooperation of the Department of Health Information Management at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Analysis of those contemporaneously collected data was undertaken later by the Louisiana Center for Health Informatics. SETTING: Evacuation shelters, Parish Health Units, and other locations including churches and community centers were the venue for ad hoc clinics in the Acadiana region of Louisiana. PATIENTS, PARTICIPANTS: The evacuee-patients-3,329 of them-whose information is reflected in the subject dataset were among two geographically distinct but similarly distressed groups: 1) evacuees from Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans and other locales near Louisiana and neighboring states in late August 2005 and 2) evacuees from Hurricane Rita that devastated Southwest Louisiana and neighboring areas of Texas in September 2005. Patient data were collected by physicians, nurses, and other volunteers associated with the Operation Minnesota Lifeline (OML) deployment during the weeks following the events. INTERVENTIONS: Volunteer clinicians from OML provided triage and treatment services and documented those services as paper medical records. As the focus of the OML "mission of mercy" was entirely on direct individually specific evaluation and care, no population-based experimental hypothesis was framed nor was the effectiveness of any specific intervention researched at the time. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE(S): This study reports experiential data collected without a particular preconceived hypothesis, because no specific outcome measures had been designed in advance. RESULTS: Data analysis revealed much about the origins and demographics of the evacuees, their hurricane-related risks and injuries, and the loss of continuity in their prior and ongoing healthcare. CONCLUSIONS: The authors believe that much can be learned from studying data collected in evacuee triage clinics, and that such insights may influence personal and official preparedness for future events. In the Katrina-Rita evacuations, only paper-based data collection mechanisms were used-and those with great inconsistency-and there was no predeployed mechanism for close-to-real-time collation of evacuee data. Deployment of simple electronic health record systems might well have allowed for a better real-time understanding of the unfolding of events, upon arrival of evacuees in shelters. Information and communication technologies have advanced since 2005, but predisaster staging and training on such technologies is still lacking.

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