Aiding Gulf Coast Families Affected by Oil Spill

Matthew McDermott
The Johnson’s may not be able to fish due to the Gulf Coast oil spill, but at least they can count on affordable, quality health care at an AmeriCares-supported clinic. Matthew McDermott

Melonie and Richard Johnson, commercial fishermen from Vancleave, Miss., have been living on their fishing boat for five years while they rent out their house to repay debts they amassed after Hurricane Katrina. Still not fully recovered from the financial fallout of the last major disaster to hit the region, they are now in the eye of another storm: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Johnsons are among the hundreds of fisherman who haven’t been able to cast their nets since globs of oil began washing ashore on the Gulf Coast.

Like many small business owners, the Johnsons can’t afford health insurance, so they rely on Coastal Family Health Center in Biloxi – one of the more than 200 clinics AmeriCares supports across the United States with deliveries of medicines and medical supplies.

“I’m the type of person that if I didn’t have the money, I wouldn’t go to the doctor, and here they help me,” Melonie, 46, a cervical cancer survivor with high cholesterol, said during a recent visit to the clinic.

AmeriCares has donated more than $215,000 worth of medicines and supplies to 11 Gulf Coast clinics serving the poor and uninsured, including the Biloxi clinic, since the April 20 oil spill. AmeriCares will continue to send shipments to meet the increasing demand from patients with breathing problems, skin rashes and wounds from working on the clean-up efforts.

Rising unemployment is also expected to increase the need for mental health services as patients uncertain about their jobs in the seafood and tourism industries battle depression and anxiety. That’s why AmeriCares is funding mental health assessments and counseling in the Biloxi area, as well as increasing deliveries of mental health medicines to clinics throughout the region.

“As we saw with the Exxon Valdez spill and Hurricane Katrina, the need for mental health care services spikes after disasters of this magnitude,” said AmeriCares Medical Director Dr. Frank Bia. “Mental health is a silent killer and contributes to serious loss of life due to suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse.”