Hospitals see storm-related illnesses

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 4, 2008

NATCHEZ — Natchez hospitals have seen an influx of heart attack patients since Hurricane Gustav moved through the area.

Respiratory problems have also been a major issue, mostly due to stress caused by the storm, Natchez Community Hospital medical director of emergency services Michael Wheelis said.

“Stress just compounds an already precarious health situation,” Wheelis said. “Unfortunately, when people evacuated they didn’t leave their medical problems at home.”

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The lack of electricity has also made respiratory problems more difficult to deal with, especially for those who use home based oxygen treatments, he said.

“Another thing we did from this ER, we coordinated the supplemental oxygen supply for homebound oxygen dependent patients, who have no power and cannot use their home oxygen concentrator due to lack of power,” Wheelis said.

At the same time, Natchez Regional Hospital has opened an area with electricity for people to perform their home-based oxygen treatments.

Natchez Community Hospital was prepared for the influx of patients, Wheelis said, which has been a mixture of evacuees and Miss-Lou residents, but has had to send some patients to other hospitals, including the Central Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and Riley Hospital in Meridian.

“The mechanism in place to transport them so easily took care of that,” Natchez Community Hospital CEO Tim Trottier said.

The hospital is almost completely full, but Wheelis said he expects the number of patients to go down this weekend, when residents are able to return to New Orleans and other coastal areas. However, a Federal Emergency Management Agency contract with AMR ambulance service has been extended through the weekend to help deal with the high number of patients.

The contract brought 10 ambulances and two support vehicles to town to respond to emergency calls at shelters.

“(The extra FEMA ambulances) frees up our local ambulances to do local emergency calls,” Wheelis said. “I’m very appreciative of the very hard work that both ambulances services have provided to the community.”