Nearly one year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall, we hoped to get an inside look into the status of Louisiana’s healthcare system to understand how the rebuilding effort has progressed. During these last several days we have meet with partner nonprofit hospitals, community health clinics, and healthcare associations in New Orleans, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge to get a sense of what remains to be done. Although each individual clinic has a unique and often incredible story, there are several key issues that tie each together; issues that require focused attention and support in order to strengthen the provision of Louisiana’s healthcare.
Throughout the state, particularly in New Orleans, staffing shortages have significantly hindered the ability of healthcare providers to meet the needs of the populations they serve. From our conversations, it is clear that there is a specific shortage of registered nurses, many of whom evacuated New Orleans and have yet to return. With fewer nurses and healthcare professionals to service increased populations, patients often wait weeks to see a doctor and receive needed medications. Direct Relief International partner, East Jefferson General Hospital, a facility which is renowned for its Nurse Magnet status, is suffering from a shortage of 100 nurses, a need so great they are reviewing recruitment options of nurses from other countries.
Access to medications, particularly at community health clinics, remains a critical issue. In our meetings with Algiers Community Health Center in New Orleans, Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic, and Capitol City Family Health Center in East Baton Rouge Parish, nurses and doctors work with a limited stock of medicines to provide care to medically underserved and uninsured residents. We were amazed at the extent of health services these clinics were continuing to offer with such limited resources. We were also acutely aware of how valuable shipments of medicines and supplies from Direct Relief are and how continued support is needed to strengthen the capacity of these organizations to meet the needs of their community.
An additional concern of the healthcare professionals we met is access to transportation. The thousands of people that fled New Orleans since the storm have relocated to other cities, where they reside in FEMA trailer parks that often lack sufficient public transportation. Many providers have been forced to invest already tight resources into mobile medical units and patient vans to meet the needs of patients living out of reach of public transportation. Without such measures, many patients would go without healthcare.
The population continues to ebb and flow throughout Louisiana; many people are returning to New Orleans, while other evacuees have become permanent residents in new homes and cities. Many of the facilities we spoke with are still treating an increased number of patients compared to pre-Katrina levels, which makes the need for medical professionals, medication, and transportation services even more critical.
The situation remains complicated for health care providers. One year later, there is a still an enormous amount of work left to be done. The partners we have met with are all incredibly dedicated, passionate, and hardworking; with limited means they will continue to provide health care to their communities in every shape and form possible, but they recognize the challenges that lie ahead. Direct Relief remains committed in its support throughout Louisiana both through increased material support and cash grant program.