Health and Wellness

In the ten years since the storm, racial disparities in health persist in communities of color, adversely impacting the city’s most vulnerable residents – children, poor people, elderly and the mentally ill. The two key factors for measuring health and wellness in post-Katrina New Orleans are race and location. Research on the impact of health and place in New Orleans revealed that there is a 25.5 year difference between zip codes with the highest and lowest life expectancies.

Not surprisingly, these zip codes represent some of the most racially segregated neighborhoods in New Orleans. In New Orleans, a post-Katrina survey found that African Americans are statistically and significantly less likely than whites to report that their neighborhoods have enough restaurants, grocery stories, and places where children can play outside.

This brings us to the issue of access. The shuttering of Charity Hospital in the weeks and months following Hurricane Katrina left an unconscionable gap in health access for the city’s most vulnerable residents. The impact of the closure of Charity Hospital and New Orleans Adolescent Hospital were far reaching – leaving poor and uninsured residents with limited access to medical and mental health services. At present, many New Orleanians do not have access to health benefits under the Affordable Care Act because of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults. And while a newly constructed “state-of-the-art” hospital, University Medical Center, may be good news for some, it lacks the mission to serve the uninsured that drove Charity Hospital, and has less capacity overall for in-patient mental health and psychiatric care. The new University Medical Center will have 60 psychiatric beds, with only 38 to start, compared to Charity, which had nearly 100 inpatient beds and a 40-bed crisis intervention unit. Perhaps most strikingly, the new hospital will not deliver babies – forcing poor residents who relied on Charity for maternity services to go elsewhere.

The mentally ill also face a lack of access due to the fact that in post-Katrina New Orleans, we rely on the criminal justice system to service the mentally ill. At present, approximately 45 percent of the inmates at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), have some form of mental illness, a population that has increased since Hurricane Katrina. Reports have indicated that patients, unable to receive treatment elsewhere, are placed in OPP for medication and daily inpatient care. More troubling is the fact that there are no assurances that those who are incarcerated will receive adequate medical and mental health care at the jail. In June 2015, the City of New Orleans issued a “stop work order” on construction of the Orleans Parish jail due to violations of City Code for failing to build a jail that can adequately serve those with medical and mental health needs.

In addition, recent studies have highlighted the ways in which women of color have shouldered the burdens imposed by the storm, resulting in higher rates of mental illness and PTSD and a recent survey revealed that Black teens in New Orleans are four times as likely to have PTSD.

Key Recovery Data

45 Percent of mentally ill inmates in Orleans Parish Prison.
25 Life expectancy in Orleans Parish varies by as much as 25 years depending on the zip code. Zip codes with the lowest life expectancy have a higher percentage of people of color and poor residents.
38 Inpatient psychiatric beds will be available at the new University Medical Center.
0 Babies will be delivered at the new University Medical Center New Orleans – because it will not offer that service

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