Saturday, June 16, 2007

Elderly Healthcare Almost Two Years After Hurricane Katrina (Audio)

This is an update on healthcare of the elderly and others in New Orleans, my hometown, almost two years after Hurricane Katrina. What New Orleans needs most in the area of healthcare is a workforce. There is a severe shortage in medical doctors. In one Mid-City neighborhood, five doctors remain of the 120 practicing there before the hurricane.

While the general population is still far below previous numbers, it is much higher than the number of healthcare workers available. The few remaining hospitals are overcrowded. Large numbers of medical records were destroyed in the floods. Before the hurricane, 2,269 beds existed for acute care patients in Orleans Parish. Only 635 remain today. Many chronic mental patients who need hospital care have few services available. Besides depression, patients are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. The suicide rate has tripled.

New walk-in patients often show up with no medical records, no memory of prescriptions they had been taking, and no insurance. A significant number are elderly and on Medicaid. Chronic coughing, related to particles inhaled during cleanup and home renovation, is common. Treating patients is a stressful challenge to doctors, many whose own homes and private practices were destroyed.

As an incentive to increase the number of healthcare professionals, Louisiana is slated to receive a federal grant of $15 million dollars to provide up to $110,000 in payments to primary care doctors and other healthcare workers who move to New Orleans or surrounding areas. The government has a record of being extremely slow in disbursing financial aid in New Orleans.

Dr. Robert Travis Kenny, one of the five remaining Mid-City doctors, states, "I question why people with medical problems would return. Until you have enough hospital beds and the system gets up and running, it's a dangerous place to live for unhealthy people." Unfortunately, many unhealthy, elderly people have no other choice.

Most of the above information about healthcare in New Orleans came from an April 30, 2007 “Los Angeles Times” news article titled “A Post-Katrina Doctor Drought” by Ann M. Simmons.

You can listen to a more detailed account about the treatment of mental health patients in New Orleans at this June 11, 2007 interview titled “New Orleans Mental Health Crisis” at

Frances Shani Parker, Author
"Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

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