Don’t let anybody kid you. The government response to Hurricane Katrina was not only a disaster when the storm first hit. It’s still a disaster now.
I've been talking to medical professionals recently returned from the region, and the picture they paint is of almost unfathomable incompetence -- of doctors and nurses actively prevented from reaching the people who need them, of treatment denied to people with chronic conditions, of alarming sanitation arrangements in shelters. One prominent Californian internist told me there was such a contagion of upper respiratory infections, he would not be surprised to see a significant outbreak of tuberculosis.
Here's what Paula Criscenzo, a Californian nurse, wrote after returning from a tour of duty among the evacuees at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana:
Any prescriptions that had been filled [when the evacuees first arrived] were now expired and needed to be filled. FEMA had still not paid anything to the pharmacies that had filled these prescriptions, so they were not filling or renewing any prescriptions. All of the evacuees from Rita who had arrived a week earlier had been told that they would not have their prescriptions renewed until the Katrina bills were paid by FEMA… These people were in a crisis situation. Many of them were on five to six different medications for heart, thyroid, and diabetes problems and had run out of meds at least a week ago.
In addition to the health issues there is a huge population there that is addicted to pain killers and other narcotics that are now going through withdrawal. There was nothing set up for these people except a clinic they could be bused to that was only open on Mondays and Thursdays… All of these people should have been receiving counseling as they had been through trauma too unspeakable to believe.
You can read more in my latest column for LA CityBeat.