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The New Orleans Nurses Who Stayed by NICU Babies During Hurricane Ida

By Kaden Pradhan

London, United Kingdom

Ochsner Baptist was partially reconstructed after Hurricane Katrina. (Photo Credit: Ochsner Health)

A team of nurses specializing in intensive care for newborns volunteered to stay overnight at a leading New Orleans hospital as Hurricane Ida struck the city.

Medics at Ochsner Baptist Medical Centre were permitted to care for the 39 premature or sickly babies in their care throughout the night, as howling winds and intense rain tore through Louisiana.

While most of the city was evacuated, including the infants’ parents, Paula Jean Simon and her squad at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) remained to ensure the health and safety of their young patients, many of whom were too vulnerable to transport away. Cameras were installed in the newborns’ cribs to allow parents to view their children remotely and still feel close to them.

“My team pulls together,” says Simon, “[It] doesn’t matter what’s happening; they’re going to make sure the babies are taken care of.”

Simon is certainly no stranger to worrying about children. A mother of four, Simon has been unable to see her family since Ida’s wrathful arrival. “It’s hard” she states, tears in her eyes, before concluding: “[I’ve] got great kids. The house is strong, so we’re good.”

The NICU team’s heroic effort comes after the hospital’s horrific experience with a previous cyclone, Hurricane Katrina, during which the ground floor and basement were flooded, leaving the entire building completely insular, without any electricity or utilities after the failure of the emergency generator. The surviving personnel and patients could only be evacuated after multiple days, after which the hospital was closed for several months. It was eventually renovated in 2006, under new leadership from Ochsner Health.

After that devastating event, the hospital, at the time under Tenet Healthcare, was investigated for alleged "mercy killings" of seriously ill patients during Katrina. A doctor and two nurses were arrested. Little is known about what occurred in the hospital during those dark days, with accusations of morphine injections and starvation. Eventually, however, the charges were dropped. Later still, the staff and the hospital were fully cleared of any wrongdoing after the New Orleans coroner announced that one of the deaths was not a homicide.

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going," as the saying goes, and this is certainly true of Paula Jean Simon and her team, whose courage and fortitude will be an example to us all as we emerge from the pandemic into a brighter, more hopeful world.


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