New Orleans Lacks Mental Health Treatment Options After Hurricane Katrina
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is "facing an unprecedented mental health crisis -- and the city has no way to deal with it," USA Today reports. According to statistics from the coroner's office, the suicide rate in the four months after Katrina struck in August 2006 was 300% greater than pre-hurricane levels. A CDC survey conducted after the hurricane showed that 26% of New Orleans residents felt at least one person in their family needed psychiatric counseling, although less than 2% were receiving help. Police data indicate that emergency calls for mental health reasons are coming in at a 15% higher rate than before Katrina. Despite the greater need for mental health care, few facilities and staff are available, according to USA Today. A survey cited in the Journal of the American Medical Association last spring found that 22 of 196 practicing psychiatrists had returned to New Orleans. Citywide, a youth mental health services facility has converted 20 beds to treat adults, and 20 beds at private facilities are available to adults needing inpatient services. Two public health clinics remained intact after the storm, and although six others have reopened, four of them are in temporary trailers and none are fully staffed. With only 20% of New Orleans' health department staff returned, few records of mental health statistics are being kept as workers focus on day-to-day services, USA Today reports. According to Kevin Stephens, director of the city Health Department, "This couple of months is our most critical time period. ... New Year's, Mardi Gras, Easter, and if people need (mental health) services right now, there really is almost no place to go." Jerome Gibbs, executive director of the Metropolitan Human Services District, said, "We're stretched very thin," adding that the reopened clinics are "having trouble with staffing, (and) we have tremendous resource needs. And we're finding that there are large numbers of people who need services that aren't even making it in" (Eisler, USA Today, 1/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.