Life after Katrina - The Disaster Continues
It has been 18 months since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Mississippi. Within a few days of the flooding, as the city was being evacuated, I went to New Orleans and Baton Rouge to offer medical help. It was a life changing experience to be in the heart of such a disaster and I am keenly interested in how the people are getting their lives back.
Katrina took a terrible toll. Fifteen hundred lives were lost, 780,000 people were displaced and 200,000 homes were totally destroyed. The medical community...doctors, nurses, hospital facilities were also destroyed. When I was there we set up makeshift medical clinics serving 5,000 homeless men, women and children who were shell shocked, without their medications and displaced from loved ones. You might remember them as the "rooftop people" and each family had a horrific story to tell. The city was under water and communication was impossible. We had basic supplies and needed to use common sense and compassion as our first line weapons. Rebound from those first weeks and months of chaos has been difficult.
The American College of Cardiology held their 2007 meetings in New Orleans last week and local physician speakers reported that medical services are far from adequate in the City. The hospitals are still not operating to full capacity and many physicians lost their records, equipment and even their own personal homes. There remains a dire shortage of primary care physicians and certain specialists to care for the remaining population of the Gulf Coast.
There is a serious shortage of hospital beds and emergency departments are full. As of the end of 2006, only 3 of 15 health clinics had been reopened. To further increase the problems, hospitals must deliver more uncompensated health care as people have lost jobs and the city is full of transient workers. This fragile health infrastructure is being held together by the dedication and goodwill of the health care workers, many of them who live in FEMA trailers themselves.
When I was in New Orleans, the American Red Cross was on the ground providing shelter, food and some level of coordination for the evacuees. There are no easy fixes for the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina but we should not forget that the crisis is still there and help is still needed. If you want to learn more or help, check out St. Thomas Community Health Center, New Orleans or The American Red Cross.
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