Three Years Post-Katrina, New Orleans Faces Healthcare Crisis and Braces for Gustav

Friday, August 29, 2008 General News
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OAKLAND, Calif., Aug. 28 As America turns its attentiontoward New Orleans on the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster, theRegistered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) is releasing a video that conveys theimpact of a second disaster facing the city -- the collapse of its healthcaresystem. On the eve of the anniversary, as tropical storm Gustav gathersstrength, cities in Mississippi and Louisiana are placed on high alert, andresidents express grave concerns that their basic healthcare needs will beignored again.

The new anniversary video explores the ongoing crisis through the voicesof nurses, doctors, city officials, and local residents who are stillstruggling under appalling healthcare conditions following Katrina three yearsago.

Healthcare professionals, patients, community activist available forcomment:

In conjunction with the release of this video, RNRN is also makingavailable a number of individuals featured in the video who can talk about thehealthcare crisis in New Orleans, including --

-- Alice Kraft-Kearney, RN and Patricia Berryhill, RN: Two nurses whofounded the Lower 9th Ward Health Clinic from Berryhill's personal home ofover 30 years where she raised her children and prepared meals for the localfootball team. The home was flooded to the rooftop and completely rehabbedwith help from community volunteers to the now pristine and desperately neededfree health clinic.

-- Cecile Tebo, NOLA Police Dept. Crisis Unit Administrator: Saw anincrease in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide following thestorm, yet there were no psychiatric beds for two years with the closure ofCharity Hospital -- the second-largest public hospital in the nation. Shereports that there's been little improvement.

-- Kim Lange, Nurse Practitioner: A native of the Lower 9th Ward, Kimjoined RNRN immediately following the storm and volunteered at the Lower 9thWard Clinic.

-- Dr. James Moises, MD: Emergency Room physician (formerly at CharityHospital, which remains closed three years post-Katrina)

The tragedy of the collapse of the public health safety net in NewOrleans, caused by the controversial closure of Charity Hospital and itsnetwork of community clinics, is underscored by the findings of a recent studythat points to an increasingly sicker population in the city. The KaiserFamily Foundation survey released on Aug. 13 found that 84 percent of adultsliving in New Orleans face ongoing health challenges and there has been asubstantial deterioration in residents' mental health status.

Moreover, a recent article in the American Journal of the Medical Sciencesnoted that Charity Hospital -- which is featured prominently in the RNRN video-- "was the center of the greater New Orleans safety-net system for the past269 years [and] the dominant source of care for the indigent population,serving 63 percent of the uninsured." A recent structural assessment ofCharity unveiled Wednesday estimated it could be rehabilitated in three yearsat a cost of $484 million. Building a new hospital would take five years andcost $620 million, the report says.

With these conditions as a backdrop -- and with other public hospitalsfacing financial difficulties and closures around the country -- many medicalprofessionals, patients, and other community leaders inside and outside of NewOrleans are calling for the passage of HR 676, a national "Medicare for All"system and its promise of guaranteed healthcare on the single-payer model thatis succeeding in every other industrialized democracy.

The new video offers ways to take action, including passage of HR 676 andcontributing much-needed funds to the free health clinics featured in thefilm.

"Katrina revealed some ugly truths about our nation's failure to care forits citizens in the wake of a natural disaster," said Kim Lange, a New Orleansnative and RN f

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