Gulf Coast causing widespread destruction and flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and dozens of state, local and private relief agencies are trying to aid the hundreds of thousands of people throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who were forced to evacuate their homes. One of the hardest-hit areas is the city of New Orleans, which was almost completely flooded when its system of protective levees failed.
Those subgroups with better access to resources will always secure a health advantage in times of stress. Though disparities in health existed in Louisiana before the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, this crisis and the inadequate government response clearly demonstrated this principle.
Disparities in health outcomes worsened following the disaster with a disproportionate burden of morbidity, including new diagnoses such as post traumatic stress disorder, falling on disadvantaged groups. With the closure of Charity Hospital, the only access point to health care for many of the poor and uninsured in New Orleans, thousands of individuals were left without a source for care, which likely worsened these disparities.
Simply replacing Charity with another under-funded public hospital, and replicating a two tiered system that treats patients with private insurance differently than those dependent on charity care, misses the opportunity to replace the separate and unequal health care system of Louisiana with a more equitable one that serves all people.
While universal health care would not have completely eliminated disparities that existed before and after Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that the two tiered system of health care in New Orleans left thousands of individuals at risk.
Because Louisiana state law mandates universal access to health care, the state funds a public system to serve the poor and uninsured. When Charity Hospital was severely damaged by the disaster and could not reopen, low-income and uninsured residents of Orleans parish were left with no place else to go.
With much damage to health care facilities and many physicians relocating outside of New Orleans, the already stressed health care system was not equipped to absorb such need. In another early study of Katrina survivorsthe impact of this impaired access to care is readily seen.
Predictors of treatment disruption were age with the non-elderly being at higher risksocial isolation, housing need, and lack of health insurance.
Due to job loss, the already substantial problem of lack of insurance was compounded, and according to the US Census Bureau, the number of uninsured people increased at greater rates in Louisiana than any other state during the years immediately following Katrina.
With more uninsured, and fewer sources of care for those without insurance, there was undoubtedly much avoidable suffering. While these numbers demonstrate significant disparities, they fail to capture the most extreme suffering, as those displaced to trailer parks and temporary shelters outside of New Orleans, reported even greater difficulty with access to care and much higher rates of physical and mental illness.
The reason for health disparities by socioeconomic status or race in New Orleans is not limited to lack of health insurance, and insurance coverage alone without a strong primary care infrastructure would not have increased access to care, however, the two tiered health system that exists in Louisiana, and all across the United States, one that treats patients differently based on ability to pay, leaves a large percentage of the population at increased risk.
An equitable health system would not have provided transportation for those trapped in the 9th ward as the flood waters rose, but after the disaster it may have helped diabetic former Charity patients find other sources of care and avoid interruptions in medical treatment.
As New Orleans and Louisiana rebuild, local policy experts and community members will set priorities for their health care needs.
However, following the injustices that were exposed and exacerbated by Katrina and the disproportionate burden of suffering that fell on the low-income, African-American population of Orleans Parish, a commitment to health equity could be symbolic for the rest of the country in how to treat all citizens with dignity.
If we are going to build a healthy society in New Orleans, and across America, access to high quality affordable health care needs to be considered a right — not just charity. The uninsured and underinsured will always have second class health status until we guarantee health care for all."The aftermath of Katrina devastated the New Orleans health care safety net, entirely changing the city’s health care landscape and leaving many without access to care a year after the storm.
Rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast - Lessons learned to strengthen nation's healthcare - Response to Ferdinand's "Public health and Hurricane Katrina" Article Jun Effects of Katrina on New Orleans Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans economy; tourism, port operations, and educational services, the foundation of the city’s economy, survived, offering a base for recovery The effects of Hurricane Katrina on the New Orleans economy Michael L.
Hurricane Katrina, which swept into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on August 29, , caused far and away the largest damages in real dollar terms of any hurricane in U.S. history, with uninsured losses topping $ billion (Bloomberg News, ) and. The New York Times sent Gary Rivlin to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, days after the storm, to cover Katrina as an outsider.
While most people were looking backward in those weeks trying to figure out what went wrong, Rivlin’s instincts had him looking forward “to the mess ahead. NEW ORLEANS -- Towering over much of the Central Business District, Charity Hospital at once represents the past, present, and future of healthcare in New Orleans.
Built in , Charity was the.