A Call for Help to Offer Free Health Care in Post-Katrina New Orleans

08/06/2011 11:23 am ET | Updated Oct 06, 2011

There was a time -- late August, 2005, and immediately thereafter -- when Hurricane Katrina was on all of our minds. Many of us remained focused on the storm's toll, in New Orleans in particular, for some time thereafter. And no doubt, our thoughts have turned in that direction periodically ever since.

But our devotion to any given disaster tends to be short-lived, unless we are affected directly -- if only because the next disaster preoccupies us in its place. Since Hurricane Katrina, we have witnessed a devastating earthquake in Haiti, a devastating earthquake coupled with a nuclear disaster in Japan, a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and innumerable other catastrophes --natural and man-made -- of varying location, scope, and impact.

But while attention may wander, the toll of a calamity as great as Hurricane Katrina tends to leave an indelible and perhaps permanent imprint at ground zero. There are many manifestations of this, but one that is especially salient to me as a doctor is this: An entire section of New Orleans is without a hospital after several were forced to close following the hurricane. This means a vulnerable population in a traumatized area, likely to have increased needs for medical care, have decreased access. That's a bad combination if ever there was one.

Fortunately, it's a combination a program called C.A.R.E. (Communities Are Responding Everyday), sponsored by the National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC) is working to fix. They are striving to help those in New Orleans who need help most -- but they, in turn, need help from us. Let's help them, help us, help our neighbors in New Orleans!

The National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC) is a 501 c (3) nonprofit organization, and relies on donations. C.A.R.E. Clinics depend on both the financial support of donors, and the volunteer efforts of clinicians.

Providing care where there isn't any is about public health. But one of the mistakes in thinking about public health is forgetting that there really is no public -- there's just you, and me, and everyone else! This is about people, just like us. You know the saying: There but for the grace of God...

C.A.R.E. has operated in New Orleans since Katrina, and has accumulated many private stories that remind us what 'public' health is really about.

One gentleman came to the clinic and handed over seven pill bottles, a knife and a bottle of Jack Daniels telling clinic organizers that he was going to kill himself but came to the clinic instead. He had lost his job as a substitute teacher after the storm and was working in construction only to be laid off two days before the clinic because the construction company stopped rebuilding homes. (C.A.R.E. clinics have been the "safety net" to catch seven people on the brink of suicide and save their lives- 5 of them in New Orleans.)

A grandmother brought her 15-year-old granddaughter to the clinic because she had diabetes and had been without insulin for 8 months. The grandmother and granddaughter had evacuated New Orleans to Houston after the storm to wait for her son and the rest of the family -- only to learn that the son, wife and two children were killed in a car crash in the evacuation. The 15-year-old received her necessary insulin and got signed up for health insurance at the 2009 clinic. In 2010 both the grandmother and granddaughter returned to the clinic as volunteers.

A young man was a lab technician at Charity Hospital but since its closing was unable to find work. He finally had an opportunity to be a substitute teacher but needed a physical and yet he had no insurance. He came to the C.A.R.E. clinic, got the physical on which his employment depended, and now is working.

These, of course, are just small, albeit compelling, views of the world of good NAFC and C.A.R.E. have been doing. To date, 13,000 uninsured patients have been provided care and connected to local free clinics and safety-net resources, and 12,000 volunteers have been activated. The clinics do more than provide on-site treatment for uninsured people -- the patients with safety-net providers such as free clinics and federally qualified health centers and other resources in their area so that patients can receive regular treatment and help on an ongoing basis.

C.A.R.E. clinics are not just for the sick -- they serve the needs of anyone who has missed out on routine medical care. Back-to-school and back-to-work physicals are provided, as are cancer screening services. C.A.R.E. has picked up four cancer cases that would otherwise have gone undetected.

In conjunction with the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, MSNBC's "The Ed Show" will join forces with NAFC to bring free health care and treatment to New Orleans on Monday, August 29, 2011. The August 29th Clinic in New Orleans will be the 11th C.A.R.E. Clinic held by the NAFC since September 2009.

The clinic will be hosted by MSNBC news anchor Ed Schultz, host of the nightly program "The Ed Show," which airs at 10PM ET weeknights on MSNBC. This will be the fifth free health clinic from which "The Ed Show" has broadcast.

The August 29 clinic will be located at the Ernest N Moral Convention Center in New Orleans, and will be open to patients from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. The number for patients to register in advance is 1-877-236-7617.

Now, here's where we come in. Medical practitioners are needed for this clinic with a special emphasis on general, internal, family and emergency medicine- although all medical practitioners and professionals are welcome. I would very much like to say to my colleagues, "See you there!," because I would like to be a volunteer myself. Alas, all I can do this time is send money, as I am scheduled to be out of the country on August 29. But if it's a day you are available, please consider lending your expertise. Because of special waivers obtained from state authorities, practitioners with out of state medical licenses are able to participate without restrictions. And, NAFC has purchased malpractice insurance for the event and proof of coverage is available for those who need it. Finally, NAFC will provide orientation and all materials and equipment on the day of the event.

Non-medical volunteers are also needed to support the event. All day and part time volunteer hours are available and the NAFC provides proof of community service. To volunteer, apply for an out of state license, and for information on hotel accommodations and various volunteer jobs please visit

For those of us who can't get there, sending money is the next best thing! In the past few years alone, MSNBC has raised over $3 million dollars in viewer donations to help this cause- so we'll be in good company. But much more is needed to fully fund this vital effort. To donate to the NAFC and the C.A.R.E. Clinics please visit; you can also text HEALTH to 50555 to donate $10 to the NAFC.

If you have questions I haven't addressed, or just want more information, email Information about the NAFC is available at, and questions about the foundation may be sent to

I can't help but note that this kind of vital service shouldn't really require a special event. When small medical problems are neglected, they grow into large medical problems -- with huge costs in both economic and human terms. We all lose when this occurs. We all lose when a child can't get the physical exam they need to attend school. We all lose when a prospective employee can't get a physical, required to get a job. We lose both money, and human potential. Here's hoping for permanent, universal solutions to these pernicious threats.

For now, at least, we can take them on in New Orleans -- by caring beyond Katrina and helping C.A.R.E. help us to help one another. There is no public -- there's just us -- and we're all in this together. There but for the grace of god, go I -- and you -- and those we love.

Please help -- and thank you!


For more information about about MSNBC + the NAFC's Free Clinic Event, see and Mediaite.