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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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See how the Hancock Medical Center was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- Like a patient coming out of major surgery, the hospital serving this and neighboring towns is slowly recovering.

And like a chief surgeon, Hal Leftwich, administrator of the Hancock Medical Center (http://www.hmc.org/), is watching his patient closely. Left homeless by Katrina like so many other locals, he is living in a FEMA trailer behind the hospital, next to two “dorm” trailers for ER nurses and doctors.

He also was at the public hospital when Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge propelled 6 feet of water into the hospital’s ground floor. So, too, were 80 staff and 34 patients for whom ambulances were not available to evacuate in time.

All survived, but the hospital suffered an estimated $11 million in damage to the building and $9 million in equipment losses -- most of which was not covered by insurance. The saltwater intrusion ruined everything it touched, from beds to a $250,000 X-ray machine to the $300,000 telecommunications system, Leftwich says, adding that the damage “was a lesson in why you don’t want to have your equipment on the ground floor.”

Twenty-five other Mississippi hospitals sustained an estimated total of $161 million in Katrina damage, but none as much as Hancock Medical Center, says Shawn Lea, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Hospital Association.

Now, nearly four months after the storm, painters and carpenters are only now putting the finishing touches on the ground floor. And because it's a hospital, they're having to go the extra mile -- or in this case extra feet. Instead of cutting the sheetrock out at the water line, they're replacing entire sheets to make sure no traces of toxic mold remain.

Only a dozen beds filled on average

Unfortunately for the hospital's bottom line, the workers aren't disturbing too many patients. Prior to Katrina, the hospital used an average of 60 of its 104 beds at any given time, but that’s down to 12 since so many Hancock County residents still are living outside the area.

That has translated to staff cutbacks. Sixty-seven employees were given pink slips in late November, leaving about 180 working full-time or part-time – a far cry from the 500 employed before Katrina. The remainder of those are either on call and not working regularly or have relocated.

Click for related story: Liz Zimmerman: From cancer to Katrina

The hospital, which is owned by the county but is self-sustaining financially, also faces competition from free health clinics that have opened up around the area.

That impacts the hospital as well as doctors in private practice.

Leftwich says that five of the 25 doctors in Hancock County who had full-time practices in Hancock County before Katrina still haven't returned. “It’s important that as doctors return, the clinics go away,” Leftwich says.

First surgery performed

On the upside, doctors performed the first surgery at the hospital since Katrina just after the three-month mark. Leftwich says that in itself was a “real hurdle … probably the biggest of the hurdles” since it required plenty of “what if” moments to make sure everything was ready.

The hospital has also received some donations, as well as loans of expensive equipment from manufacturers. Its foundation is continuing to solicit donations, which can be earmarked either for the hospital, staff or doctors, via its Web site.

FEMA also will pay to replace destroyed equipment, though Leftwich says the valuation of the used equipment is much less than the actual replacement costs.

As a result, the hospital expects a “multi-million dollar” loss in 2006, Leftwich projects a return to solvency in 2007.

It could be two years before the hospital is back to pre-Katrina levels, but Leftwich takes comfort in the fact that he is no longer spending all his time trying to figure out how to meet basic needs – like restoring the restrooms. The hospital was left without any working bathrooms after the storm and there was a collective sigh of relief when the portable toilets arrived five days after the storm, he recalls.

“That,” Leftwich says, “was a real boost in morale.”

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21 COMMENTS

I am aware that it is important to get this facility up and running but we have to remember that the majority of the people in this region may not even have health insurance or any money at all. I think it would be prudent to keep the free clinics open for those in dire need.

My son and I just attained a HP computer for Christmas. I feel so blessed that this has happened to us. Now, I can read about all the wonderful things that people are doing to help each other. Even, though this was such a tragic event in our country, people are getting things going there. I really enjoy reading about this.

i feel sad for any loss.....but i don't know about hospitals....they sure make a killing...on anyone sick....i believe they will milk the money out of thier patients ...and thier insurances ...soon!!!

Hal:
As one member of the DMAT team which set up "camp" in your parking lot, I'm glad to see that the hospital is recovering. You and your staff were very gracious to us and we wish you the best in your recovery.

As an outsider, it is a very positive sign to see that things are slowly but surely getting back to normal. To people with negative comments about the hospitals making a killing; you can not run a business at a loss, it does not make sense and you can probably not afford their services anyway and for you they have state owned hospitals.

I think that all areas NEED a hospital. A free clinic is okay for minor things, but when there is a need for an emergency surgery such as an appendectomy, you REALLY need a hospital. Yes, I agree that they do make a profit - but they ARE businesses, after all. They need to charge those who have insurance, in order to balance out those who arrive in emergency rooms without coverage. Having a hospital that can supply medical needs is one of the steps towards recovery. Having visited this area a few years ago, I have been interested in reading coverage of the people. My hopes and prayers go out to everyone there. I am amazed at how positive their attitudes have been.

I BELIEVE THAT HOSPITALS ARE THE ROOT OF OUR HUMANITY HERE ON EARTH. THOUGH GOD IS THE CREATOR AND MASTER OF ALL LIFE AROUND US DOCTORS AND NURSES ARE ANGELS WHO WORK IN A COMMUNITY TO HELP US TO LIVE HERE ON THIS EARTH.THIS HOSPITAL WILL RECOVER BECAUSE IT DOES GODS WORK IT GIVES LIFE TO THOSE DOWN AND HOPE TO THOSE IN DOUBT. THERE IS A CURE TO ALL OF THIS IT IS FAITH. WE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THINGS AND SOAK IN OUR OWN PROBLEMS WHEN THESE PEOPLE WHO WENT THROUH KATRINA HAVE FAR MORE PROBLEMS IN WHICH WE COULD IMAGINE. BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE AND BELEIVE AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE. TAKE NO ONE OR NOTHING FOR GRANTED.

As a former patient of the Hancock Medical Center, I am so happy to see it finally returning to something closer to normal. I had a wonderful experience when my son was born there 2 years ago, and I was forced to leave the area after Katrina to find someplace with a fully functioning maternity unit for my second son who was born a month ago. When I was there, I didn't find the charges to my insurance company outrageous, and the staff was so wonderful. I was really torn about leaving the area as all my family, friends, and work are there..... but when the extent of the damage was known, I knew I would have to go somewhere else to have my second son. Since this is the ONLY hospital for Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Pass Christian, DIamondhead, and the surrounding areas, I am so very grateful to know that the hospital and its staff will be there when I return.

Couple of things about Hancock Medical Center. First, it is a county-owned hospital, not privately owned. County-owned -- a county that has been basically wiped out. They don't have corporate backers who can ship in new equipment to replace what was lost. Second, they ARE the only hospital in that county. They ARE the free clinic.
I had the chance to meet several of those staff when I was part of a group that took supplies to them. Those doctors, nurses, administrative staff, cafeteria workers, cleaning staff, security people, etc., are ALL about getting their community functioning again. For weeks, highly trained doctors and nurses were hanging sheetrock and doing night-watch duty. These were people who SWAM to get medical supplies during the height of the storm. One ICU nurse told me that when he swam to get supplies for a paitent in need (they had all moved to the 2nd floor, since the GULF OF MEXICO moved into the 1st) that he was halfway there and realized he was swimming in his ER with a school of fish.
Those people in all the hospitals on the coast have done amazing work -- Biloxi Regional, Crosby Memorial in Picayune, you name it. But Hancock Medical Center has without a doubt overcome the most.
Oh, and nearly 70% of their staff lost their homes. Yet they are still there caring for their neighbors. God bless them!

Two weeks after the storm, I had to take my sister to the "emergency room" at Hancock, not even knowing if it was still there. Sure enough though, we drove up and there it was, not a pretty sight, but the staff was still there working. You could see the strain on their faces, but they never let on that they were hurting too. They were very busy that day and we ended up being treated by the military doctors who had set up a "MASH" unit. It was very rewarding to see all of these people helping others when they had lost so much themselves. I had a chance to go through the hospital that day and it took my breath away. I didn't think it would ever be open to the public again. Everything was destroyed. So it is good news that they are going forward - Hancock is a vital part of the area - and ran by good, decent people.

Since the inceptions of Katrina has changed the economic landscape of Hancock county, i hope the hospital and all other medical infrastructures will significantly adjust their prices. If people do not have jobs, homes or sources of livelihood. it would be impractical to charge or insist upon the reinstituion of pr-Katrina corporate priceing. In fact who can afford the previously cost prohibitive fees. I am a Jackson County, Oceans Springs Physician. I actively practice in the recovery area. All of us must readjust our pricing to meet the affordable needs of current and potential patients. this is not only ethical, but is most financially expedient. It will promote a new economic reality, that can be sustained until times significanlty improve. it is possible that "free" that is no out of pocket at all cost clinics "compete" with the economic survival of some physicians.However these clinics to my best estimation, (there are three in ocean springs, D'iberville area) are generally see the geographically displaced. they do not file insurance, commercial or government. To evaluate their long term impact , ti would be prudent to asses what is required after 1 year. As some others have already stated, most of us are still trying to secure adequate housing for our selves and families

As a coordinator for a possible free clinic service coming for a week in February, I can tell you that there is no reason to worry about the free clinics affecting the hospital. The clinics will only play a small part to help you folks regain your life in this short-term recovery-time span and then they will stop coming. But you, Hancock Medical Center, are there to stay!!

I guess this is where I am left confused about this news report. My husband is a patient of one of the remaining 5 doctors that still has not returned since Katrina and his whereabouts is unknown. When my husband's prescriptions expired and he needed to have his doctor write out the new prescription, of course, his doctor wasn't available. He turned to Hancock Medical Center. When he arrived he was not allowed to ask any type of questions for assistance. The only way he could get questions answered was if he was seen through the emergency room. Then after he was seen in the emergency room, the ER doctor told him the hospital couldn't help him with his prescriptions but they were very sympathetic towards his pain he was suffering and wished him the best. The only thing they could and would advise was that he would have to find another Doctor. The ER doctor gave him two names. Of course, both of these doctors would not take my husband as a patient. We tried several of the other returned doctors that have returned to the area and the result has been the same. We are not taking new patients, we don't treat that type of medical injury, we don't deal with workman's comp insurance. To date he still does not have a Doctor. What was his last recourse at least on his prescriptions? He turned to the volunteer medical clinic at the Train Depot located in Bay St. Louis that is stationed here to help us during our time of need and recovery. His questions were answered by the volunteer staff, he was able to speak with a Doctor, his medical needs were met and his prescriptions rewritten. So that is why I am confused. Do I really want to see these volunteer clinics leave town but yet know the importance of a local hospital that is trying to recover as well and they need patients, cash and insurance to do so?

The post above and the effect of Katrina on medical care is one more reason why we need nationalized medicine. Why should private businesses be allowed to profit off the medical needs of ill human beings?
Profit has no place in health care. Another lesson we have learned from Katrina.

i'm with Gary Ruzasan....but who do we vote for to get-r-done....no one.....unfortionly...catch 22!!!!

I was the CFO of HMC for almost 5 years. The area and the Hospital is full of wonderful, caring, compassionate people who have experienced a loss that the majority of Americans will never know or understand. I actually went to BSL/Waveland the week after Katrina. There are NO words that adequately express what I saw. The devastation was horrific. It will be MANY YEARS, POSSIBLY DECADES before Hancock County returns to the beauty it was, yet the citizens perservere.
Every day at lunch I come to this website and most days do not leave it until I have shed several tears.
My thoughts and prayers are with all my dear friends that God will give them the strength and courage they need.

AS A HEALTHCARE WORKER (REG. NURSE) IN CANADA I CAN ONLY FEEL GREAT SYMPATHY AND ADMIRATION FOR ALL MY FELLOW PROFESSIONAL COMMRADES AND THEIR PATIENTS. THE FACILITY THAT I WORK IN HERE IS GOING THROUGH RENOVATIONS AND THIS IS A GOOD THING YET IT IS SOMETIMES FRUSTRATING AND INTRUSIVE. I CAN'T EVEN IMAGINE THE STRESS INVOLVED IN WHAT ALL YOU ARE INDURING. PLEASE KNOW THAT PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOU AND PRAY FOR YOUR SUCCESSFUL RECOVERY OF MIND, SPIRIT, BODY AND BUILDING. STAY STRONG!
MAY 2006 BRING JOY AND HEALING AND THE RESOURCE TO GET BACK TO WORK!
ALL THE BEST A CANADIAN NURSE!

Hal and all the Hancock Co. Medical Center stay. I'm glad to see that HCMC is getting back on its feet. Keep up the excellent work! It was a privalage to work with you and the staff and to provide care to your customers! Dave Wilson Team Commander IA-1 DMAT. Deputy in Charge of Operations for DMAT MO-1/IA-1/FL1 8-31-05 through 9/11/05

As part of the DMAT team sent to Bay St Louis in the dark early days post-Katrina, it is such an encouragement to hear how things are progressing. Words cannot express the debt the community owes to those brave members of the hospital staff who remained to care for their neighbors during that difficult time. "Heroes" is not a strong enough word for what they did - and continue to do.

I had to have an emergency room visit to Hancock Memorial just before Christmas. The bill just came....over $1100 for a 30 minute visit. The most outrageous thing was a pharmacy bill for $300. I was given one tetnus shot, one shot of demorol for pain and one antibiotic capsule. I think that $300 is quite excessive. I am fortunate and have health insurance, but next time it's the free clinic for me.

does Hancock County Hosp. use Physician Assistants in the E.D.?? I'm Interested in finding who i could talk to!!

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