Pages

Sunday, January 28, 2007

State of New Orleans and the Elderly after Hurricane Katrina—January 2007

New Orleans is where my life story started. It is a place that I own and a place that owns me on many levels. Even though I've lived most of my adult life in Detroit, I speak proudly of my New Orleans roots. The "Big Easy," a name I never heard “colored” people use when I was growing up, was never easy. Still, there were exhilarating chapters that swept us into sweetness the way great New Orleans music does.

Much of that ended in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina and broken levees submerged the city in disaster. The elderly poor were disproportionately affected. Most residents in nursing homes were not evacuated before the levees broke. As flood waters rose rapidly, destroying many facilities, elderly and frail patients, often wheelchair-bound, bedridden or dependent on generators for oxygen, were moved to higher floors in nursing homes with that option available. Drinking water, food, medical supplies and electricity became scarce, as desperate hours evolved into nightmarish days with dead patients.

Most of those who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina were over 60 years old. Many of the elderly who were not in nursing homes drowned or died from other causes, including dehydration and starvation. Those who survived were among the hundreds of thousands forced to leave what was left of their homes, if anything. They relocated elsewhere, sometimes to locations where they knew no one. Many of the displaced elderly will die aching for home and familiar faces scattered across the country.

Almost a year and a half after one of the worst natural disasters in American history, progress in physically rebuilding New Orleans has been miserable, along with a near-epidemic of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and tripled suicide rates. Affordable housing, senior centers, health care and crime prevention remain severely lacking. Many of the elderly who returned live in precarious conditions where each sunrise signals another struggle. By every humane evaluation, the overall suffering among the elderly and many others in this city rates beyond extreme. Yet the recent “State of the Union” address by President George W. Bush made no mention at all of New Orleans.

Visit Frances Shani Parker's "New Orleans Memories" Web Site.

Frances Shani Parker
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog