In a September story in the print journal, HIM directors in New Orleans discussed the state of their departments three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One director described her operations as “not normal, but workable.” The same is true for the personal lives of many HIM staff at facilities throughout the region.
While water can be drained and medical records restored, the emotional scars of the hurricane remain vivid three years later. Lives were lost, possessions disintegrated, and families scattered across the country. As an HIM director, emotional understanding continues to be a requirement as HIM employees try to work and rebuild their lives at the same time.
Flex time is a must, because HIM employees still deal with child care issues and sorting out private messes left by the storm. “There are not a lot of daycare centers,” says Sandy McCall, RHIA, director of HIM at Touro Infirmary. “We’ve had to be extremely flexible and understand that everybody has their own situation.”
“I don’t think there is anybody in this department that has a pleasant situation; everybody has been affected one way or another,” she says.
In the two years after the storm, people were still settling with insurance companies on compensation, rebuilding their homes, and even driving between states to visit their children, says Shelia Gorden, RHIT, HIM director and chief privacy officer at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. “You can’t say, ‘No, you can’t go meet with FEMA. Wait another year,’” she says. Gorden herself evacuated New Orleans to an aunt’s tiny house in Batesville, MS. She and about 20 relatives piled into the refuge, some sleeping on the porch for days with nowhere else to go.
Compassion is a must as people continue to adjust to this new post-hurricane life. “As a management team, we cannot be really strict on a lot of things,” McCall says. “We have to be very compassionate, very empathetic with our employees. Because God knows we are all going through it.”