Army Nurses and Healthcare After Hurricane Katrina
— by COL (Ret.) C. J. Moore, AN
When Hurricane Katrina hit
the coast of Louisiana on
29 August 2005, its immense size and strength combined
to turn a disaster in New Orleans into a catastrophe.
Many healthcare facilities were damaged or destroyed.
The communication infrastructure was knocked out.
Over one million people were evacuated.1 On 7 September
2005, Army nurses and other healthcare providers
of the 14th Combat Support Hospital deployed to
hurricane-battered “Big Easy” to provide emergency
healthcare in the wake of this, the costliest natural disaster
in the history of the United States.
The mobile medical unit set up “64 beds plus operating
room, pharmacy, radiology, laboratory, and blood bank in
DEPMEDS temper equipment at the New Orleans International
Airport.”2 Later, because Hurricane Rita potentially
had the airport in its path, the unit was torn down
and set up again at the New Orleans Convention Center.
The hospital expanded to “84 beds; computed tomography
and X-ray equipment were added; and an emergency
room, and several ambulatory clinics were set up.”3
This move was fortunate not only because it moved the facility
closer where hurricane-ravaged survivors might be,
but also the Combat Support Hospital became to only facility
to provide trauma support. Charity Hospital, which
normally handled this level of care, had been damaged
beyond repair by the floods following the hurricane.
Chief Nurse Lieutenant Colonel Kelly Wolgast and the nurses of the hospital found there was no shortage of
patients. Many individuals were cut off from care and
medical therapeutics, such as oxygen or insulin. Other
patients who were homebound or mentally ill were somehow
missed and not evacuated. This population was also
in desperate need of assistance. As in other disasters, the
emergency room saw a high number of heart attacks, uncontrolled
hypertension, and orthopedic injuries. Newly
homeless patients’ chronic health care problems were exacerbated
as they attempted to come to terms with their
loss and try to plan for the future. The 21st Combat Support
Hospital deployed on 10 October to replace the 14th
as the city’s only trauma center.
1LT Bridget Regner tends a 21st CSH patient in New Orleans
Army nurses attached to the mobile hospital worked nonstop
12-hour shifts seeing up to 150 patients per day. They
provided reassurance as their patients related their stories,
and helped stabilize individuals so that they could
be moved to other hospitals for definitive care. Nurses directed
the efforts of dispensing hand antiseptics, to remind
people of basic cleanliness, and encouraged people to rest
when they could. They provided the bulk of the “hands-on”
care such as immunizations and dressing changes.
Traumatized clients were highly impressed by the kindly
nurses and were appreciative of their excellent nursing
On 14 November the 21st Combat Support hospital handed
over the operation to the newly reestablished Charity
Hospital. In total, during the five-week mission the Army
nurses and the other healthcare professionals provided
non-urgent, urgent and lifesaving care to more than “1,400
patients including performing 11 operative procedures
and seven cardiopulmonary resuscitations. The emergency
room saw over
400 patients including
patients and 36
There is no question
was a challenging
event in the
of our country.
These Army nurses
demonstrated that no matter what the event or location,
outstanding nursing care can be provided. “It took
the skills resident in American’s soldiers to overcome the
chaos and destruction delivered by Hurricane Katrina.”6
1 Elizabeth Bridges et al., “Military Nursing Research: Translation
to disaster Response and Day-to-Day Critical Care Nursing,”
Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America, 20 (2008): 122.
2 “ANC in the Spotlight,” The Connection, 30(December 2005): 7.
4 Patrick Kenney, “The Life of an Army Physician” Notre Dame
Club of Hawaii Newsletter, December 2005.
5 Tequia Burt, “After the Storm: Experiences and Insight from the
Front,” Healthcare Executive, 24 (March/April 2006): 32-34.
A. Wombwell, Army Support During the Hurricane Katrina Disaster, (Ft.
Leavenworth, KS: US Army Combined Arms Center, 2009): 6.