Emotional Managing in New Orleans

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.”


  1. Thanks for acknowledging that compassionate management is necessary not only in national disasters, but in family disasters as well. I am a Katrina survivor, member of a Harvard Mental Health Study on Katrina survivors and a AHIMA student member. There are times when a person wants to be at work but conditions of family, illness and simply returning to work through the reminants of hurricanes prevent it- conditions you cannot control.

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  2. DavidOur home was far from a river or creek so we, like most of the residents in Des Moines, did not eenreixpce a flooded home but the loss of running water was very wearing on our nerves. Even so for most of the ordeal, the community spirit prevailed and we all tried to be patient and helpful to those worse off. The Chief of our Water Works, L D McMullan, is a local hero and a legend in water treatment circles. He was magnificent and worked a miracle to get the whole problem solved in a mere 12 days. Yes, the Water Works is much better protected now although it’s still on the river (cause that’s where the water is!) with much higher berms and flood control measures. Also, the downtown area is much better protected with flood gates, etc. It should never happen again but you never know. I sure wouldn’t want to be on the clean-up committee for New Orleans. That water is nothing but raw sewage now and it will be standing in the heat for quite some time. What a nightmare. I understand the refugees in the Super Dome are going to be evacuated to Houston’s Astro Dome. A lot of those people are elderly and frail. It seems an unimaginable predicament no place in there own city can accommodate those poor people.This situation reminds me of Bangledesh.

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