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One in 10 Louisianans Rely on Health Centers for Care. The Power’s Out for Many.

As power slowly comes on, safety-net health facilities are working to reach vulnerable residents.


Hurricane Ida

Map showing power outages by New Orleans parish. (Direct Relief)

Power is expected to be restored to New Orleans Parish by Wednesday, according to officials at the City of New Orleans and Entergy, the area’s largest energy provider.

CrisisReady, a research partnership between Direct Relief and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been working on gaining a better understanding of how the power outages are impacting the area’s most vulnerable residents. Their most recent analysis shows that there are 19 counties in Louisiana with a 50% or greater customer outage rate, based on data from Entergy. That area contains 212 Federally Qualified Health Center sites that serve 215,208 patients. Of these, almost 17,000 patients are over 65 years old, 41,225 are uninsured, and about 20,000 have diabetes.

About 10% of the state’s population, or 448,000 people, relies on Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs, about 1% higher than than the national average. The majority of these patients, and health centers, are concentrated around New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which are facing widespread power outages.

Nationally, Federally Qualified Health Centers serve about 30 million Americans nationwide and care for anyone who seeks treatment, regardless of their ability to pay. 90% of patients are at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guideline.

Direct Relief has been providing medical support to both health centers and free and charitable clinics responding to Hurricane Ida’s impacts even as they experience outages and work to provide for their patient populations.

Speaking to the New York Times, Direct Relief’s Vice President of Research and Analysis Andrew Schroeder said that communities in the Gulf Region tend to favor backup generators over solar power. A potential complicating factor is when fuel is in short supply or runs out.

“Every day that goes by becomes an increasing challenge,” he said. “The first 24 hours, you have maybe not too many problems. By the time you’re into a week, and we’ve seen this with a lot of other places, then you have problems with dialysis, and you have problems with oxygen generation and ventilation.”

Patient Care, With or Without Power

One local health center, Odyssey House Louisiana, is an example of how health centers respond to the specific needs of their respective communities.

In addition to primary care, the organization also serves as an addiction treatment center. Based in New Orleans, it is facing a power outage but has managed to keep its residential treatment centers operational. They are also continuing to accept intakes for short-term addiction treatment, but the center was forced to close its primary care operations due to power constraints.

In an ongoing attempt to respond to the most pressing needs of its partners like Odyssey House Louisiana, Direct Relief is preparing to deploy backup power options, including solar powered-refrigerators for temperature-sensitive therapies like insulin and vaccines.

Baseline luminosity in and near New Orleans on August 25, 2021 with all FQHC sites as circle points. (NASA Image/ Direct Relief analysis)
Baseline luminosity in and near New Orleans on August 25, 2021 with all FQHC sites as circle points. (NASA Image/ Direct Relief analysis)
Luminosity in and near New Orleans on September 2, 2021 with all FQHC sites as circle points. (NASA Image/ Direct Relief analysis)
Luminosity in and near New Orleans on September 2, 2021, with all health center sites as circle points. Power has yet to come back on for many health facilities with vulnerable patient populations. (NASA Image/ Direct Relief analysis)

Ann Tucker, Odyssey House Louisiana’s development director, said one of their three facilities had power restored this morning. The other two are running on generators.

“It’s hot, it’s New Orleans, and the generator doesn’t run full air conditioning, but we’re doing the best we can, but we’re not able to provide full comfort to our patients and staff because the heat index is over 100 these days, and humidity sets in,” Tucker said.  Odyssey House Louisiana had about 200 patients staying with them during the storm.

The lack of power has interrupted their detox program as well, which Tucker said is the entry for most of their addiction treatment patients. “It’s a big gap in coverage,” she said.

Staff at Odyssey House Louisiana are keeping the generators going by driving to Mississippi to buy propane, and also picking up other essentials like ice and food. Tucker credited Odyssey House Louisiana’s staff with keeping the operations going.

Tucker said the organization only receives funding for services they provide, not infrastructure, and that any extra funds go directly back to patient care, which has prevented them from looking at alternative energy sources in the past.

“Once power starts, we’re really ready to move forward. The first thing is getting health clinics back online, and we would continue intakes too,” she said. “Power is really the most critical thing.”

Population Movement Data Update

CrisisReady is also analyzing local population movement and demographic data in an effort to maintain updated situation awareness for public officials, responders, and NGOs. The most recent data suggest that some parts of New Orleans may have seen up to 75% of its residents leave – and stay away. At least a dozen districts have seen at least a 50% decline, compared to pre-storm, baseline figures.

This analysis is based on data from Facebook’s Data For Good program, which shares anonymized information from Facebook’s app users who have opted into the program. CrisisReady also compiled the poverty rates in each area as well as 2018 American Community Survey figures.

The analyses were shared with the City of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, via its Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and Direct Relief. Understanding where people are actually located can help officials and responders optimize their resources and the distribution aid to where it is needed most.

Direct Relief has responded to Hurricane Ida before, during, and after the storm’s landfall. Medical aid shipped has included prescription medication like insulin, Emergency Medical Backpacks for triage care, personal care products for evacuees, PPE, nutritional products, and backup power options to health facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other states experiencing Ida’s effects.

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