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Three Years Post-Katrina, New Orleans in Healthcare Crisis and Bracing for Gustav

Press Release Press Release, 8/27/08

Contact Information | Media Center

August 27, 2008

Nurses release anniversary video “Broken Levees, Broken Lives” documenting the crisis
Watch it at: www.GuaranteedHealthcare.org


As America turns its attention toward New Orleans on the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster, the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) is releasing a video that conveys the impact of a second disaster facing the city – the collapse of its healthcare system. On the eve of the anniversary, as tropical storm Gustav gathers strength cities in Mississippi and Louisiana are placed on high alert, and residents express grave concerns that their basic healthcare needs will be ignored again.

The new anniversary video explores the ongoing crisis through the voices of nurses, doctors, city officials, and local residents who are still struggling under appalling healthcare conditions since Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
Healthcare professionals, patients, community activist available for comment:

In conjunction with the release of this video, RNRN is also making available a number of individuals featured in the video who can about the healthcare crisis in New Orleans, including -

  • Alice Kraft-Kearney, RN and Patricia Berryhill, RN: Two nurses who founded the Lower 9th Ward Health Clinic from Berryhill’s personal home of over 30 years where she raised her children and prepared meals for the local football team. The home was flooded to the rooftop and completely rehabbed with help from community volunteers to form the now pristine free health clinic.
  • Cecile Tebo, NOLA Police Dept. Crisis Unit Administrator: Saw an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide following the storm, yet there were no psychiatric beds for two years with the closure of Charity Hospital – the second-largest public hospital in the nation. She reports that there’s been little improvement.
  • Kim Lange, Nurse Practitioner: A native of the Lower 9th Ward, Kim joined RNRN immediately following the storm and volunteered at the Lower 9th Ward Clinic.
  • Dr. James Moises, MD: Emergency Room physician (formerly at Charity Hospital, which remains closed three years post-Katrina)

The tragedy of the collapse of the public health safety net in New Orleans, caused by the controversial closure of Charity Hospital and its network of community clinics, is underscored by the findings of a recent study that points to an increasingly sicker population in the city. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey released on Aug. 13 found that 84 percent of adults living in New Orleans face ongoing health challenges and there has been a substantial deterioration in residents’ mental health status.

Moreover, a recent article in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences noted that Charity Hospital – which is featured prominently in the RNRN video – “was the center of the greater New Orleans safety-net system for the past 269 years [and] the dominant source of care for the indigent population, serving 63 percent of the uninsured.” A recent structural assessment of Charity unveiled Wednesday estimated it could be rehabilitated in three years at a cost of $484 million. Building a new hospital would take five years and cost $620 million, the report says.

With these conditions as a backdrop -- and with other public hospitals facing financial difficulties and closures around the country -- many medical professionals, patients, and other community leaders inside and outside of New Orleans are calling for the passage of HR676, a national “Medicare for All” system and its promise of guaranteed healthcare on the single-payer model that is succeeding in every other industrialized democracy.

The new video offers ways to take action, including passage of HR 676 and contributing much- needed funds to the free health clinics featured in the film.

“Katrina revealed some ugly truths about our nation’s failure to care for its citizens in the wake of a natural disaster,” said Kim Lange, a New Orleans native and RN featured in the RNRN video. “And we are still not prepared today. We need a national healthcare system that has the capability of stepping in at the time of impact and providing the healthcare services needed.”

CNA/NNOC’s RN Katrina Relief Effort

CNA/NNOC sent more than 300 nurses to 25 hospitals, clinics, and mobile units in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi in response to the 2005 hurricanes, including a group of 50 RNs who arrived at the Houston Astrodome in the first few weeks. The organization provided half of the RN staff at Earl K. Long Memorial Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., for the two months after Katrina when patient rolls doubled.

This CNA/NNOC effort eventually became the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) and now has more than 4,000 members. RNRN is designed to provide support and coordination for volunteer nurses when disaster strikes, allowing RNs to focus on providing patient care. RNRN arranges airfare, lodging, and meals for all volunteers, and works with federal and state agencies to resolve issues of medical credentials and licenses for out-of-state nurse volunteers.

To find out more about the RN Response Network, visit www.RNresponsenetwork.org. RNRN is a project of the California Nurses Foundation and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee is the fastest growing professional RN organization in the nation representing over 80,000 direct-care registered nurses in all fifty states. RNRN is a program of the CNA/NNOC.

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