A recent article in the USA Today stated that there was a 47% rise in deaths in the Gulf Coast states within the impact area of Hurricane Katrina as a result of the loss of healthcare professionals in those areas. Healthcare professionals displaced by Hurricane Katrina, many laboring under the burden of student loan repayments and the daily financial needs of life assimilated themselves into their new home community as they landed in cities and towns across the United States.
Now that the cities of the Gulf Coast are rebuilding they are discovering that these healthcare professionals are not rushing home to the Gulf Coast.
Startup cost for a private medical practice vary between $100,000 and $200,000 for rent, business insurance, malpractice insurance, equipment, supplies, information systems, computers and simple office decorations. Most of the healthcare providers in the Gulf Coast region lost well-established practices and if they were insured at all they used the funds from those insurance payments to begin again in their new communities. Unfortunately, healthcare practices in 2007 have little resale value; particularly, when only one or two years old. Even if these professionals were inclined to move back to the Gulf Coast region, they face significant financial hardship in accomplishing that feat.
Add to this the lack of meaningful business recovery and a decline in the number of insured patients in many of these regions. The sad facts are that employment statistics and new business starts in the areas most affected by Hurricane Katrina are well below national averages. Healthcare providers, now comfortable in their new homes, find little inducement to assume the responsibilities, liabilities and hardships of returning to their former practices and even when they do often find that their former patients have yet to return as well.
Physicians are not the only individuals affected in this fashion. Hospitals that have already reopened in the Gulf Coast region are finding it more difficult to recruit nurses in a nation where there are already nursing shortages. Even when temporary staffing agencies provide nurses, known as travelers in the industry, to the Gulf Coast region to fulfill short-term contracts, most of these nurses decline the opportunity to extend their stay, take full-time positions, or return at a future date.
Much of the problem is that as healthcare has moved from the individual private doctor and the small community hospital to large corporate enterprise, it severed its relationships with its healthcare professionals seeing them more as expendable drones and less as a necessary and valued part of the healthcare delivery system.
Healthcare professionals regularly find themselves mandated to choose between maximizing patient flow and maximizing patient safety. They are often forced to forego important family events under threat of suspension, retaliation or termination. When the healthcare professional finds a home where they can achieve a level of work/life balance, it is difficult if not impossible to dislodge them again. It took a hurricane to dislodge these professionals from the Gulf Coast and nothing short of another force of nature, perhaps this one favorable, will move them back.