Press Release

Nurses Ask: Does New Orleans Suffer from PTSD?

For Immediate Release
May 2, 2007

Monday May 7 - Nurses Ask: Does New Orleans Suffer from PTSD? - Local nurses sound public health alarm on conditions in city's hospitals and clinics, long-term effect on residents, caregivers

Citing the development of a number of worrying and long-term trends among the patient and caregiver population of post-Katrina New Orleans, registered nurses from a wide variety of clinical settings will report on the severe challenges they face delivering care in their communities. The RNs will be sounding this public health alert as part of a day-long seminar sponsored by the Registered Nurse Response Network, (RNRN), a national organization with 4,000 members which was born in the aftermath of the Gulf region devastation.

The six registered nurses on the panel (participants’ bios at end of release), and many colleagues at the seminar, lived disaster nursing on the front lines during the acute phases of the hurricane, and have continued to serve the patient populations in New Orleans. They report ongoing mental health stresses among all levels of the population, severe fatigue setting in among caregivers, a healthcare system that continues to be ignored by politicians in Baton Rouge and

Washington—all resulting in a city that is demonstrating widespread mental and emotional disorders similar to PTSD and a variety of complicating physical issues.

In short: New Orleans is getting sicker, fast.

With the city down 1,000 beds, 6,000 caregivers, and seven hospitals, people not seeking care until they are acutely ill, and the rate of uninsured already at a nation-wide high and continuing to skyrocket, these nurses find themselves delivering care to a sicker population in a variety of new settings with fewer resources.

WHAT: The Post-Katrina Healthcare Challenge:
The Voices of Local Katrina Nurse Veterans
WHERE: Courtyard-New Orleans Downtown
WHEN: Monday, May 7
2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Media Availability

“This experience has given me great insight, incurred at great cost,” said Celeste Lewis, an RN who works at River Oaks Psychiatric Hospital, volunteers at St. Anna’s Parish clinic, and helped to evacuate 72 unstable psychiatric patients to Memphis. We face a tremendous challenge now with a greater need for inpatient and outpatient mental health services, an increase in the number of people suffering depression as a result of their loss, the devastation that surrounds them,

and a deficit of 300 psychiatric hospital beds. The nurses and doctors who worked through the storm and have continued on with no counseling or support systems are on a delayed response. A nurse recruiter told me that nurses in hospitals were breaking down in tears during last summer’s hurricane season.

“We are seeing an increased number of children with asthma from living in FEMA trailers that have mold and are cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer, said Laurie McInnis, a St. Bernard Parish native and RN who is the nurse coordinator responsible for the health and well-being of over 4,000 St. Bernard students, ranging from preschool to high school. “Our local hospital, Chalmette Medical Center, closed, the nearest hospital is now 40 minutes away, and the closest health facility is a clinic and urgent care center run by the Franciscans, located in a Wal-Mart parking lot that closes at 8:00 pm. Pre-Katrina there were 25 dentists and 10 pediatricians who took Medicare; today there are none.”

“The remaining nine hospitals in the area have minimal services with a shortage of beds and are understaffed, and overloaded with too many patients,” said Charles Jarreau, an RN who worked the five days of the storm at the now-closed Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans and currently works in an outpatient surgery center that treats many forms of cancer. “We have lost many of our premier hospitals and diagnostic centers specializing in cancers. The few facilities that have re-opened are struggling. Cancer patients don’t feel safe with their treatment options and have re-located to places like Baton Rouge and Houston.”

Monday’s event is the last in an initial series of 16 classes that RNRN, a project of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, has offered this year, which started in Houston and ends in New Orleans. The course is titled “RN Social Advocacy for Healthcare and Disaster Preparedness Response: Building a Powerful RN Response Network.”

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 that 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.

“We were so frustrated because both private and public agencies were overwhelmed and immobilized while we had nurses across the country ready and able to fly into the breach to help,” said Bonnie Martin, RN, Nurse Practioner, from Lodi, Calif., who volunteered in a small Louisiana hospital last fall. “We contacted hospital and medical facilities directly and were quickly able to get RNs in place.”

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 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 75,000 direct-care registered nurses in 170 facilities. RNRN is a program of the CNA/NNOC.

The Post-Katrina Healthcare Challenge: The Voices of Local Katrina Nurse Veterans

Panel Participants

Celeste Lewis, RN
Pre-Katrina: River Oaks Psychiatric Hospital
Post Katrina: River Oaks and St. Anna Episcopal Church's Medical Mission
Leaving, home, family, and friends on the Saturday before the storm, she evacuated and cared for 72 unstable psychiatric hospital patients in a sister facility of River Oaks located in Memphis. A New Orleans native, she continues to work at River Oaks, one of the few psychiatric inpatient units remaining in NOLA. She is in school to become a family Nurse Practioner and volunteers at St. Anna Episcopal Church's Medical Mission, assisting the Parish Nurse/Disaster Relief Coordinator.

“New Orleans is not a comfortable place to live. It is a frustrating and isolating place. I have lost so many friends, basic services don’t exist. Not a day passes that it doesn’t cross my mind to leave. But this is my home and I have a tremendous commitment to doing my part in re-building a new and better New Orleans.”

Kim Lange, RN
Pre-Katrina: Lindy Boggs Medical Center
Post-Katrina: McDonogh High School Clinic
A New Orleans native, she worked at Lindy Boggs Medical Center, a mid-size neighborhood hospital owned by Tenet Healthcare and now closed. She evacuated to Texas with her family, but returned as soon as the city was reopened. She now works as a school nurse in a make-shift clinic with no exam table located in a science lab at McDonogh High School adjacent to the French Quarter. She sees up to 150 students a week but can only do physical exams once a week when St. Anna’s lends them their mobile clinic. Kim also works with kids who have never been reunited with their parents since the storm and are living in FEMA trailers, often several children to a trailer.

“Nurses and doctors are caught in the middle, being both victims of the storm and caregivers to victims. We are faced with a myriad of challenges both professionally and personally, and as nurses we never say no. If we can’t provide a service we’ll find someone who can. That is proving harder and harder to do.”

Alice Craft-Kerney, RN and Pat Berryhill RN
Pre-Katrina: Charity Hospital
Post-Katrina: Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic
The Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic was Pat Berryhill’s home for nearly three decades until Hurricane Katrina sent flood water to its ceiling. Now, as the sign in the front reads, it is "Your Medical Home.'' Alice, who worked at Charity Hospital for 20 years, was flooded out of her home in eastern New Orleans and now is living in a FEMA trailer in the Lower 9th. The clinic - which has paid staff and volunteers - operates strictly on donations and is partnering with St. Margaret's Daughters, California Nurses Association, AARP, Tulane's New Orleans Children's Health Project, and others. The Common Ground Lower 9th Ward Project was instrumental in the clinic's formation.

“The uninsured are getting discharged prematurely from private hospitasl. People don’t have access to their medications for chronic diseases- high blood pressure, thyroid condition, and diabetes leading to more serious complications. We need Charity Hospital.”

Charles Jarreau, RN
Pre-Katrina: Memorial Medical Center
Post-Katrina: New Orleans Gamma Knife and PET Center
A Baton Rouge native, Charles worked the five days of the storm in the intensive care unit at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, which is now closed. Post-Katrina, Charles has become active in the American Cancer Society, volunteering at the Hope Lodge, a free hotel available to cancer patients and their families to stay during treatment.

Laurie McInnis, RN
Pre-Katrina: Home Health Nurse, St. Bernard Parish
Post-Katrina: St. Bernard School Parish
A St. Bernard Parish native, Laurie evacuated to Baton Rouge with her family where she resided for ten months. Upon returning home, she found St. Bernard’s population had plummeted from 100,000 to 25,000 which included most of the elderly residents she had worked with as a home health RN since 1991. Her husband, a coach and teacher at the local high school, discovered the need for a school nurse, where she has worked for the last year providing care for over 4,000 students crowded into two schools.

Anne Mull, RN, FNP
Pre-Katrina: University of Ca., S.F. Family Nurse Practioner
Post-Katrina: Common Ground Health Clinic, Algiers
Hailing from Berkeley, Calif., Anne signed on to CNA/NNOC’s Katrina disaster relief effort in September 2005 and spent a week helping to staff the emergency department of Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge. She accompanied several other California RNs working at Earl K. Long to New Orleans before it was officially reopened to find out where there was a need for RNs. She began working as a volunteer nurse at the Common Ground Health Clinic in Algiers where she now works as a family nurse practioner.

“We see 40 to 50 patients a day and don’t take appointments so every morning there is a line of patients outside the clinic door waiting to be seen. The section of Algiers we are in is mostly poor and mostly black. The community has been underserved by accessible healthcare for years - only a maternal/newborn clinic has been functioning. With the closure of Charity Hospital, there is virtually nowhere to refer our clinic patients who need diagnostic services or specialty care.”