Skip to main content

  Cindy Sheehan's diary at has a report from a Veterans for Peace doctor who was prevented from helping the Red Cross in Covington, St. Tammany Parish.  There are other stories showing red tape keeping aid from getting through, and one in the Baton Rouge newspaper is particularly egregrious.  This time, it's Dr. Mark N. Perlmutter, who has served in other disasters as a volunteer physician.  However, at N.O.'s Louis Armstrong International Airport, while administering chest compressions to a dying woman, a FEMA official told him to stop.  Why?  Paperwork, they said.

"I have been going to Ecuador and Mexico (on medical missions) for 14 years. I was at ground zero. I've seen hundreds of people die. This was different because we knew the hurricane was coming. FEMA showed up late and then rejected help for the sake of organization. They put form before function, and people died."

full story below...

Doctor says FEMA ordered him to stop treating hurricane victims

Advocate staff writer

In the midst of administering chest compressions to a dying woman several days after Hurricane Katrina struck, Dr. Mark N. Perlmutter was ordered to stop by a federal official because he wasn't registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I begged him to let me continue," said Perlmutter, who left his home and practice as an orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania to come to Louisiana and volunteer to care for hurricane victims. "People were dying, and I was the only doctor on the tarmac (at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport) where scores of nonresponsive patients lay on stretchers. Two patients died in front of me.

"I showed him (the U.S. Coast Guard official in charge) my medical credentials. I had tried to get through to FEMA for 12 hours the day before and finally gave up. I asked him to let me stay until I was replaced by another doctor, but he refused. He said he was afraid of being sued. I informed him about the Good Samaritan laws and asked him if he was willing to let people die so the government wouldn't be sued, but he would not back down. I had to leave."

FEMA issued a formal response to Perlmutter's story, acknowledging that the agency does not use voluntary physicians.

"We have a cadre of physicians of our own," FEMA spokesman Kim Pease said Thursday. "They are the National Disaster Medical Team. ... The voluntary doctor was not a credentialed FEMA physician and, thus, was subject to law enforcement rules in a disaster area."

A Coast Guard spokesman said he was looking into the incident but was not able to confirm it.

Perlmutter, Dr. Clark Gerhart and medical student Alison Torrens flew into Baton Rouge on a private jet loaned by a Pennsylvania businessman several days after Katrina hit. They brought medicine and supplies with them. They stayed the first night in Baton Rouge and persuaded an Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot to fly them into New Orleans the next day.

"I was going to make it happen," the orthopedic surgeon said. "I was at Ground Zero too, and I had to lie to get in there."

At the triage area in the New Orleans airport, Perlmutter was successful in getting FEMA to accept the insulin and morphine he had brought. "The pharmacist told us they were completely out of insulin and our donation would save numerous lives. Still, I felt we were the most-valuable resource, and we were sent away."

Gerhart said the scene they confronted at the airport was one of "hundreds of people lying on the ground, many soaked in their own urine and feces, some coding (dying) before our eyes." FEMA workers initially seemed glad for help and asked Gerhart to work inside the terminal and Perlmutter to work out on the tarmac. They were told only a single obstetrician had been on call at the site for the past 24 hours.

Then, the Coast Guard official informed the group that he could not credential them or guarantee tort coverage and that they should return to Baton Rouge. "That shocked me, that those would be his concerns in a time of emergency," Gerhart said.

Transported back to Baton Rouge, Perlmutter's frustrated group went to state health officials who finally got them certified -- a simple process that took only a few seconds.

"I found numerous other doctors in Baton Rouge waiting to be assigned and others who were sent away, and there was no shortage of need," he said.

Perlmutter spent some time at the Department of Health and Hospital's operational center at Jimmy Swaggart Ministries before moving to the makeshift "Kmart Hospital" doctors established at an abandoned store to care for patients. After organizing an orthopedics room and setting up ventilators there, Perlmutter went back to the Swaggart Center and then to the LSU Pete Maravich Assembly Center's field hospital to care for patients being flown in from the New Orleans area.

"We saw elderly patients who had been off their medicine for days, diabetics without insulin going into shock, uncontrolled hypertension, patients with psychosis and other mental disorders, lots of diarrhea, dehydration and things you would expect. I slept on a patient cot there every night until I came home."

Gerhart said he felt the experience overall was successful and rewarding, although frustrating at times. "You don't expect catastrophes to be well organized. A lot of people, both private citizens and government officials, were working very hard."

Perlmutter did not return home empty-handed. He brought a family of four evacuees back with him and is still working with Baton Rouge volunteer Hollis Barry to facilitate the relocation of additional hurricane victims to Pennsylvania.

He also returned with a sense of outrage. "I have been trying to call Sen. Arlen Specter (of Pennsylvania) to let him know of our experience.

"I have been going to Ecuador and Mexico (on medical missions) for 14 years. I was at ground zero. I've seen hundreds of people die. This was different because we knew the hurricane was coming. FEMA showed up late and then rejected help for the sake of organization. They put form before function, and people died."

Both FEMA and the Coast Guard operate under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has been widely criticized for its disjointed, slow response to the devastation caused by Katrina. Federal officials are urging medical personnel who want to volunteer to help with disaster relief to contact the Medical Reserve Corps or the American Red Cross for registration, training and organization.

Originally posted to Hootenanny on Fri Sep 16, 2005 at 08:51 AM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  WHAT. THE. FUCK? (none)

    "As soon as New Orleans gets back to normal, I plan on volunteering to go down there and help drink their economy back on its feet." - Will Durst

    by Ari Mistral on Fri Sep 16, 2005 at 08:54:01 AM PDT

  •  A "cadre?" (none)
    A "cadre" of physicians?! How Maoist. Again: WHAT. THE. FUCK? Fuck Brownie and FEMA.

    "As soon as New Orleans gets back to normal, I plan on volunteering to go down there and help drink their economy back on its feet." - Will Durst

    by Ari Mistral on Fri Sep 16, 2005 at 08:55:21 AM PDT

  •  The good samaritan law (4.00)
    protects ANYONE, not just medical professionals when they administer CPR.  In addition, people who are CPR certified have a duty to attempt to save an individual.  This is asinine.

    "Zero tolerance" for looters?

    by Cecile on Fri Sep 16, 2005 at 08:59:47 AM PDT

  •  This mental image is indelible. (4.00)
    This is a best single example of federal incompetence and the harm it did.  This can be conveyed in 2 seconds and the water cooler, and it won't be refuted or forgotten.


    If Bush were President when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he would have invaded Mexico.-- Cervantes

    by jem6x on Fri Sep 16, 2005 at 09:02:00 AM PDT

    •  Water Cooler Talk (4.00)
      There are plenty more instances of these "telling" anecdotes that convey the problem, but not all of them make it to print.  For example, this morning on WWL radio, a spokesman (John Marie was the way I heard it) for Plaquemines Parish Sheriff told host John "Spud" McConnell of cooperating with the neighboring St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office for a week or more after the flood, and without power, no ability to phone or other communications, sharing water and supplies between parishes and trying to get people fed and to shelter.  After a week, the spokesman said, a FEMA agent came to the sheriff's office; they were glad to see him finally arrive, getting info about aid, etc.  The sheriff asked, where in the world have you been anyway?  We could have used you here much earlier.  The FEMA guy replied, well, we hadn't heard from you down here, so we assumed everything was okay!
  •  Way beyond the pale (4.00)
    Sadly, though, it's not surprising. This has always been the cover-your-ass-at-all-costs Administration, and this is yet another demonstration of their priorities.

    I wish to God that I would never have to read this news, but... Recommended.

  •  Too bad he didn't know to go (none) the Convention Center.  I'm sure that someone could have made use of him, and FEMA didn't even know anyone was there.

    Anyhow, good to hear he's not to remain quiet.

    •  The Convention Center (none)
      The Convention Center was a real problem.  The feds claimed not to know about it, the city said they didn't have enough police to protect it from the thugs, and the La. National Guard apparently used part of it for staging outside rescues, but treated the refugees there with, at best, benign neglect.  This audio report from NPR's John Burnett covers the convention center story, and ought to get whatever awards they have around to hand out for radio journalism!
  •  Maybe its Just Me (none)
    This is one of those examples where if I was a doctor, I'd have completely, utterly ignored the FEMA person (if not said "F-Off") while I was in the middle of the procedure and dared him to shoot me if he didn't like it.

    But then again, that's why I'm a lawyer, not a doctor.

    You just can't make this type of stuff up.

    My separate place for mental meanderings: Political Sapphire

    by shanikka on Fri Sep 16, 2005 at 10:58:21 AM PDT

    •  Definitely. (none)
      I definitely would've told Mr. FEMA where to shove it where the sun don't shine. Fuck the fear of being sued, and fuck bureaucracy. I took an oath to heal people...first do no harm, and all of that. Chest compressions first, ask questions later. Mr. FEMA can kiss my ass during or after I perform CPR.

      No, you can't make this stuff up. Un-fucking-believable.

      Can you tell I'm a bit angry? No two-bit paper-pusher is going to tell me not to save a life if I can!

      Ari Mistral

      "As soon as New Orleans gets back to normal, I plan on volunteering to go down there and help drink their economy back on its feet." - Will Durst

      by Ari Mistral on Fri Sep 16, 2005 at 11:02:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Unbelievable. Just Unf*ckingbelievable. (none)

    Frustration growing for FEMA truck drivers sitting idle

    12:44 PM CDT on Friday, September 16, 2005

    Associated Press

    Frustration is growing among more than 100 sidetracked truck drivers who set out with water and ice for Hurricane Katrina victims but were diverted to a Federal Emergency Management Agency staging area in western Maryland.

    FEMA spokeswoman Deborah Wing told the Cumberland Times-News on Thursday that the trucks were moved to Cumberland for possible response to Hurricane Ophelia after water deliveries to the Gulf Coast outpaced demand.

    "We are accommodating them as much as we can," Wing said in response to complaints from some drivers and their federally contracted employer that they didn't know why they were in Cumberland or how long they would be there.

    Driver Bill Lutz said he and the other drivers felt lost.

    "I asked this morning, 'Are we going to follow the hurricanes until the end of the season?'" Lutz said. "I sound angry, and I am, but I hate inefficiency."

    Speaking to a reporter Thursday at the Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort, where drivers were taken aboard local school buses for showers, Lutz said his odyssey began Sept. 6 when he left Wisconsin with a load of water and ice for Meridian, Miss.

    He said he arrived on time but was told not to unload; instead, the drivers were sent to Columbia, S.C. Barred from unloading their freight there, they were directed to Cumberland, arriving Wednesday evening, Lutz said.

    Angie Breckenridge, logistics coordinator for North Carolina-based Vondrak Farms Logistical Services, has been managing the deliveries for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through FEMA. She told the Times-News that other drivers were dispatched to Allentown, Pa., and another 30 were sent to Missouri.

    "I can't get anyone to answer my phone calls," she said.

    The drivers acknowledged they were being paid well -- some as much as $800 a day -- but they said they could make as much hauling their regular loads.

    "There's no telling when I'll be able to get home," said John Thomas, a driver from Texas. "I can't leave the load. I could sit here and get upset or complain, but it doesn't help."

    The staging area south of Cumberland is also used to store some of the trailers that are being used as emergency shelter for Katrina victims. Wing said FEMA has shipped out 350 trailers and mobile homes so far of the 800 that were in Cumberland before Katrina hit.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site