We have a new exclusive report up at Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch. D.C.-based reporter Sean Reilly reports on the government's incompetent use of health care professionals during the storms of 2005.

As Reilly reports, the failures of our disaster medical system have been brewing for a while, and starkly revealed during Katrina. This isn't just about assessing blame in the past -- it's a critical issue our country will face again during the 2006 hurricane season (just four months away!) and other disasters.

Here's the report:

U.S. Disaster Medical System Is Ailing

Reconstruction Watch
February 14, 2006

Like millions of Americans, Dr. Eva Briggs was deeply moved by the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. Unlike many, the family physician from Syracuse, N.Y. had much-needed skills to offer the relief effort.

By Briggs' account, what she got in return was a dispiriting two-week stint in Louisiana that felt more like an inept public relations exercise than a mission of mercy. Four years after 9/11, her experience illustrates the disorganization that continues to hobble the federal medical strategy for confronting large-scale disasters.

Briggs' own involvement stemmed from a first-time attempt by the Department of Health and Human Services to make use of thousands of health care professionals clamoring to help. But once Briggs hit the ground in Louisiana, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was in charge, with underwhelming results. So far, there appears to have been no independent critique of how the experiment panned out.

Late last year, however, congressional Democrats concluded that another element in the government's response to catastrophe is in critical condition: the National Disaster Medical System, a 22-year-old program that deploys paid teams to stricken areas. Despite often heroic work by doctors and other emergency responders, "their individual efforts cannot overcome the systemic problems undermining NDMS effectiveness," according to the report by the House Government Reform Committee's Democratic staff.

If that conclusion is open to charges of partisan ax-grinding, some health care professionals share it. They blame the problems on under-funding. "Over time, the whole system has deteriorated," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. But in his budget for the coming fiscal year, President Bush proposes giving the system just $34 million, only a fraction more than it received in 2005.

You can read the rest at the Watch website.