When floods come to Louisiana, what happens if a vital health care service closes its doors?
On any given day in Robert, Louisiana, up to two dozen patients or more – some travelling at least 30 miles – show up at the doors of Total Family Medical for the primary care, women’s health and mental health services the clinic offers. Many of these low-income, uninsured and underinsured residents have not seen a doctor in 10-15 years and arrive with complex medical situations. For three years, the dedicated staff of this rural clinic have provided what for many patients is their only primary care option. In March of 2016, floods brought a foot of water into the clinic. Because the area had not seen flooding in over 30 years and was not in a flood plain, flood insurance had not been considered necessary. The owner and provider of women’s health services pulled money from her personal savings account to cover losses and keep the clinic open to serve residents.
And then the unexpected – the “Great Flood” The devastating August floods in Louisiana dumped 4 feet, 3 inches of water into their leased space, leaving the facility uninhabitable. In response, doing everything they could to keep their doors open, the clinic secured two weeks of temporary space less than two miles away at a local dental office. But what to do next? Peggy Gautreau, administrator of Total Family Medical, picks up the story at that point in her own words: “One week ago there were some real moments of feeling that we may not be able to recover from this one. All we could think about was how could we leave these patients? Who would really care for them? With so many people personally affected by this disaster, it was very difficult to voice and share our “business” needs. With the help and encouragement of many friends who know what we do on a daily basis, they reminded me that our business is THE people. They need us to fight for them and speak on their behalf.”
A phone call Faced with the uncertainty of when, or if, they could return to their flooded facility, the Total Family Medical staff, decided to fight for all those who desperately needed their services. The clinic administrator rapidly purchased land in the immediate area and envisioned purchasing a pre-constructed medical facility previously used by a Federally Qualified Health Center. Despite doing everything they could, the resources were just not available. And then they got a call from Americcares. Peggy goes on to tell what happened next, “So, while I sit here in tears at the enormous help your organization is doing for us, again I want to say thank you! Thank you, Americares, for the thousands of people you may never meet in person but whom you will directly impact each and every time they walk back through our doors (our new doors!) Thank you on behalf of 9 employees who have worked tirelessly through all of this as we were seeing patients in the parking lots on the first couple of days than down the street, than back again. Thank you for giving me hope in what seemed at times, a very hopeless situation. I am humbled, so very grateful, and in complete awe. Truly no words.” Americares funding will help support the remaining down payment needed to secure the pre-constructed medical facility that will allow the clinic to continue providing health services and treat its rapidly growing patient base. No construction is needed, just connections to power, sewage, etc. The unit was delivered on August 28, as more medicine and supplies are on their way from Americares to help keep patient services available to all who need them. Rural facilities like Total Family Clinic are fundamental to the health of a community. And that is why the clinics and the health workers who run them are our first line of support in times of disaster and beyond.