AmeriCares Supports Health Care Needs of Families Affected by Gulf Oil Spill

Photo by Matthew McDermott. All Rights Reserved.
Clean-up efforts in Biloxi, Mississippi Photo by Matthew McDermott. All Rights Reserved.

The Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill will worsen already difficult health conditions for poor and uninsured families in the region. In response, AmeriCares has delivered critical medical aid to address immediate health concerns and has launched a program to help address long-term health issues in affected Gulf Coast communities.

In addition to a short-term health crisis caused by direct contact with the toxic spill, long-term impact is projected to include breathing problems, anxiety, depression and increased demand for basic health care.

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AmeriCares relief experts are also very concerned hurricanes could disperse the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – further threatening coastal communities in the United States. Most at-risk are families in hard hit Louisiana and Mississippi, where many people are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina. A hurricane's storm surge could force the oil inland, exposing thousands of men, women and children to oil residues and dispersants, the long-term effects of which are largely unknown.

Residents of Gulf Coast communities close to the spill can expect worsening of chronic respiratory conditions. Studies done after the Prestige and Nakhoda oil spills reported respiratory symptoms more than one year after clean-up was finished and a major decrease in lung function. 

Because of the oil spill, a spike in unemployment in fisheries and the tourism industry is expected. This is likely to result in increased numbers of patients without insurance or the economic means to afford health care out-of-pocket. Health care providers in the regional health care safety-net believe that this will create even more demand.

Since the beginning of the Gulf Oil crisis, AmeriCares has supplied over $215,000 worth of essential medicines and medical supplies to 11 organizations on the Gulf Coast that provide health care services to the poor and uninsured. The critical medical donation will help people suffering from pain, fever, infections, rashes and breathing problems. These are products local health care providers have identified as critical as they begin to address the effects of this catastrophe of the people who live in the region.

Another focus of AmeriCares relief efforts center around mental health issues. Based on their post-Katrina experience, Gulf Coast clinics expect that mental health service demand will grow significantly and will greatly affect low-income and marginalized groups within their communities.

"Mental health – a silent killer – contributes to serious loss of life due to suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse," said AmeriCares Medical Director, Dr. Frank Bia.

AmeriCares will focus on funding mental health assessments and counseling capacity. Additionally, AmeriCares will broaden our medical assistance to reach additional clinics along the Gulf Coast so that they can treat increasing numbers of unemployed and uninsured patients in the weeks and months to come.

AmeriCares has many long-term relationships with health care organizations along the Gulf Coast. In fiscal year 2010, we partnered with over 20 health care safety net organizations, providing everything from nutritional supplements to sophisticated medicines to a variety of cardiovascular and diabetic treatments, totaling in value at $3.7 million. We also have a history of work in mental health in the area.

In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast. AmeriCares has supported recovery and reconstruction efforts since that time, helping residents rebuild their lives and communities years later. The outpouring of charitable aid from people throughout the United States enabled AmeriCares to contribute $11 million in medicines, medical supplies and other relief in the first year following the hurricane.  An additional $13 million has supported health care and mental health initiatives as well as construction and community recovery projects in the affected areas.