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Four years after Hurricane Katrina broke the levees of the Mississippi River, hurricane season is again in full swing. Experts predict as many as 14 serious storms this year.
In preparation, AmeriCares recently conducted site visits with nearly 30 health care and social service providers in communities in Louisiana and Mississippi affected by Hurricane Katrina to assess their needs this season.
Here is a first hand account from Kendra Hanson, an AmeriCares relief worker, who has just returned from the field in Katrina-affected communities.
Hurricane Katrina scarred communities all along the Gulf Coast. Four years after the devastation, homes are still boarded up, overgrown yards mar the landscape and empty lots with “for sale” signs are all that remain of waterfront homes. But there are also the scars that you can’t see unless you look deep into the eyes of the people who survived this ordeal.
On our recent site visits, we met with groups who serve as the foundation for providing basic health care in communities still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Without these stalwart organizations, the state of recovery would be far worse. Health care centers and free clinics continue to fill the gaps that Katrina created for many in the Gulf states.
In my work at AmeriCares, I interact with many groups in Louisiana and Mississippi, so I really wanted to understand more about Katrina recovery and how that impacts health care and emergency preparedness plans since the area is always under threat from hurricanes. Our close relationships allowed us to get an intimate view and understanding of how far residents have come – and how much further they have to go in rebuilding their health care system.
Our work in the field centered on emergency preparedness, assessing recovery and understanding the state of health care in Katrina-affected communities. Mental health needs abound and were a recurrent theme with nearly everyone we met. Access to mental health services poses a serious challenge. Many mental health care practitioners left the area after Katrina and few have returned. In addition, there have been significant funding cuts and many families don’t have health insurance to pay for such specialty care to address the lingering mental health needs that developed as a result of Katrina and its aftermath. According to staff at the Coastal Family Health Center in Biloxi, Mississippi people suffering with mental health issues often must wait three to four months to see a specialist.
Families are still hurting in many other ways. Some are still trying to rebuild their homes or sell a property they can’t afford to rebuild on. Others struggle to find a doctor who will see them without health insurance or to pay for medicines to treat chronic conditions, such as diabetes or asthma. Far too many children are underperforming in school due to the trauma they suffered during the catastrophic storm.
An unexpected health impact of Katrina is rampant breathing problems because families had no choice but to move back into homes before they could be properly decontaminated after water damage. Flood waters came so far inland that many families did not have the special insurance needed to pay for damage caused by the storm.
Our field work in Louisiana and Mississippi showed me how much still needs to be done when it comes to the physical and mental health recovery from Katrina. However, we met so many amazing people along the way who are dedicated to helping their communities recover and improve.
Community-based health care groups in Louisiana and Mississippi have truly helped the recovery process and continue to quietly support anyone who comes their way with any health need, whether or not they have insurance. This has helped the recovery process and produced a safety net for many still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
AmeriCares will be there to help where we can in supporting these local, community-based health care groups as they navigate the challenging health care environment after Hurricane Katrina. To read more about the Hurricane Katrina response click here.
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