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After Bracing for the Worst, Louisiana Health Centers are Ready for Next Time


Hurricane Barry

A staff member at Baptist Community Health Services shows off the sorted contents of a Direct Relief Hurricane Prep Pack. (Photo courtesy of Baptist Community Health Services)

As slow-moving Tropical Storm Barry crawled over the Louisiana coastline, health centers braced for the worst.

“We were ready for the sky to fall,” laughed Shawn Powers, CEO of Baptist Community Health Services in New Orleans.

In the days leading up to the storm, health centers kept pharmacies open, checked in with anxious patients, and even delivered medications and food. Temperature-sensitive medications were moved to refrigerators that could be powered by a generator.

Doctors took home “go bags” designed for hurricane-related emergency care, and offered to be on call throughout the weekend.

Hurricane Prep Packs – a Direct Relief kit containing enough medical items to treat 100 patients for three to five days – were cracked open.

A few days later, the sky above New Orleans is clearer – and the future looks brighter.

The health centers received a few phone calls from patients who didn’t have medication, weren’t sure where to go, or were having difficulty managing stress.

During the rains that pelted New Orleans before the storm’s arrival, one Access Health Louisiana clinic experienced flooding, and the roof of a parking lot next door to the other caved in. (No one was injured.)

By and large, though, health centers described the event as a welcome anticlimax.

But Tropical Storm Barry wasn’t just a false alarm. It was a vital chance for New Orleans to test its disaster response – and feel more prepared for the future.

“This was kind of a dry run,” said Peggy Barrios, a nurse care manager at Access Health Louisiana.

“We put some things in place that we didn’t have in place before,” like a new group messaging app that would allow administrators to stay in communication during an emergency. A Spanish-speaking doctor from the organization went on a local radio station to give emergency instructions to New Orleans residents.

“A lot of disaster preparedness takes place well in advance of a disaster, so we can miss sometimes,” said Powers. Nonetheless, he said, he’s glad that Baptist Community Health Services actively reached out to local schools, faith-based organizations, and other groups to coordinate disaster response.

“This was really our first opportunity to step up and engage community partners,” he said. “We’ve got a little bit of a taste for that now – instead of being reactive, to try to participate.”

Barrios said Access Health Louisiana’s flooded clinic – a downtown location serving a poorer community – was back open on Monday, as were the health center’s other locations.

“We held clinic just as normal. The patients were glad we were open,” she said. “We were too.”

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