Major House-To-House Survey Finds New Orleans Area Residents Hit Hard by Katrina and Struggling with Serious Life Challenges
Eight in 10 (81%) of those now living in Greater New Orleans have seen their quality of life deteriorate in at least one of seven critical aspects of their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, including economic well-being and access to health care, according to a survey released on Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Cox/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The house-to-house survey interviewed 1,504 adults from Sept. 12, 2006, to Nov. 13, 2006, in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes (Dart, Cox/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/10). A team of 41 interviewers visited 456 randomly selected census areas to conduct the interviews in both English and Spanish, as well as to document the physical condition of nearly 17,000 housing locations. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Researchers also found that 77% of people face a serious problem in at least one key aspect of their lives, which included access to health care and coverage; physical or mental health challenges; lacking a job or having inadequate wages; or having a child who is troubled, ill or not getting needed care. Forty-four percent of residents said they are facing problems in more than one of these areas, and 52% of Orleans Parish residents said that they are facing problems in two or more of these areas. Getting needed health care is a significant obstacle for 49% of residents, with 43% reporting that they are in fair or poor health or have a chronic health condition, according to the survey. One in five (18%) reported a mental health challenge (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 5/10).
According to researchers, the survey's findings may understate the consequences of Hurricane Katrina because the city currently has about half of its pre-Katrina population of 484,674 (Cox/Kansas City Star, 5/10). The survey was conducted to inform recovery efforts and policy debates, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The Kaiser Family Foundation plans to conduct at least two follow-up studies -- one in 18 months and another in 36 months -- to track changes over time.
The study found "a huge and significant racial divide in the city," with area African-Americans "hit much harder," according to Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman (Warner, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 5/10). African-Americans were twice as likely to describe their lives as "disrupted" more than a year after the storm (59%) compared to whites (29%) (Whoriskey, Washington Post, 5/10). Seventy-two percent of African-Americans in Orleans Parish reported problems accessing care, compared with 32% of whites (Gyan, Baton Rouge Advocate, 5/10). The survey found that "the African-Americans in Orleans Parish stand out as disproportionately affected" by Katrina (Cox/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/10).
Altman added that African-American residents "were more likely than whites to believe they were treated unfairly" in recovery efforts (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 5/10). Mollyann Brodie, vice president and director of public opinion and media research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "Whites were hit hard, too, but blacks were disproportionately living in the areas that were most flooded," adding that "even before Katrina hit, there were gaps between blacks and whites" (Washington Post, 5/10).
A majority of residents see at least some progress being made in seven out of 10 recovery efforts measured in the survey, including repairing the levee system, reopening schools, and getting medical facilities up and running (Baton Rouge Advocate, 5/10). The need to prepare for the next storm tops the list of the public's priorities for the recovery effort, followed by "getting medical facilities and services up and running." When asked about specific health care system priorities, 43% said reopening hospitals; 37% said recruiting more physicians and other health professionals; 32% said increasing emergency care services; 30% said opening more community clinics; and 24% said making mental health services more available should be top priorities (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 5/10). Ninety-three percent of residents said that a new hospital should be built to replace Charity Hospital, which serves many low-income and uninsured patients in the area (Baton Rouge Advocate, 5/10). In addition, the survey found that 9% of residents think the federal government is "very prepared" for another disaster, while 53% said they and their families are ready (Heath, USA Today, 5/10).
Most residents are optimistic about the future of the city (69%), and only 11% say they plan to leave or are seriously considering leaving New Orleans (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 5/10).
Altman said, "While debate continues at all levels of government about funding and how to rebuild the city, this survey underscores a simple message: There remains a need for accelerated recovery efforts," adding, "What our survey shows is that the impacts on people and cities can build cumulatively and cut across almost all dimensions of residents' lives -- from their economic well-being to their physical and mental health to race relations -- if they are not dealt with early and decisively" (Baton Rouge Advocate, 5/10).
Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, suggested that funds be used to build clinics to supplement Charity Hospital and support broadened health coverage, and said that a "travesty that should not be repeated is that everyone who is poor goes to one place" (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 5/10).
Altman added, "The Katrina fiasco shows the need for a national relief strategy and ongoing recovery capability that can respond much more effectively to major disasters in the future, whether they are natural disasters or man-made ones like a nuclear event." He said, "The people of New Orleans today have suffered powerful shocks in almost all aspects of their lives, but they are also showing extraordinary resilience in the face of great adversity" (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 5/10). He noted, "There was a pervasive sense of optimism, a determination to stick it out. We think the findings showed a real foundation for the future" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/10).
Brodie said, "There's still a sense that things are moving in the right direction and that this place is going to recover" (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 5/10).
The survey is available online.