Leslie (Les) Hirsch, the executive director of the Touro Infirmary in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katerina, was born in 1952 in Newark, New Jersey. Hirsch has served as an administrator for various hospitals, such as Cooper University Health Care, Bellevue Hospital Center, and Saint Joseph's Hospital. Hirsch volunteered his time with several nonprofits, including the American Heart Association. He is married to Carol Hirsch, and together they have two children.
Hirsch shared his experiences growing up as one of the few Jews in a Newark suburb and his feelings of isolation. He went on to graduate school and found his way into medical administration. Hirsch started his position in the Touro Infirmary a week before hurricane Katerina. The conditions at the hospital quickly worsened after the levees broke, and they lost their generators, leaving them with no light, air conditioning, or potable water. Touro Infirmary received little to no help from the government during the first two days, so Hirsch and the staff quickly developed plans; there were approximately 2,000 people at Touro. By late Tuesday, it became clear that everyone needed to evacuate. Helicopters came and airlifted critical patients. However, in the middle of the rescue, the helicopters were redirected to a different rescue mission, leaving patients at the hospital in worsening conditions. Once the evacuation was resumed the next day, there was a growing fear of civil unrest. Hirsch evacuated after the last patient left, and the hospital was officially closed. He had decided to drive back to his family in Colorado, but he ran out of gas, so he stayed with co-workers in Baton Rouge. They set up a command center and purchased several houses to serve as temporary office space and advanced employee pay. Hirsch flew to Denver on Sunday, continuing to work from home, and returning to Baton Rouge a week later. Touro Infirmary was the only hospital in New Orleans that didn't flood. There was a rush to clean up the hospital. Hirsch decided to stay in his position in New Orleans and his work with the hospital and recovery projects. Hirsch described his hopes and anxieties for the future of the New Orleans community.