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PUBLIC HEALTH


Youngest Hurricane Victims Face Second Crisis: Poor Health Care

A new study by the Mailman School of Public Health and The Children’s Health Fund has found that thousands of families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who are living in FEMA-subsidized temporary housing in Louisiana are suffering from a host of serious medical and mental health problems but receiving little or no treatment. An accompanying analysis calls for immediate action from Congress to respond to this looming health crisis.

The study found that children have high rates of chronic health conditions and poor access to care. Mental health was also identified as a significant issue for both parents and children, complicated by the fact that the displaced have lost stability, income, and security. And the safety nets designed to protect the welfare of children and families were found to have major gaps.

“On The Edge – The Louisiana Child & Family Health Study” was conducted by Operation Assist, a collaboration between the Mailman School and The Children’s Health Fund. David Abramson, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate research scientist at the Mailman School, is the study’s principal investigator. The study focused on displaced families in FEMA-subsidized housing in Louisiana, who may be among the most needy.

Irwin Redlener, M.D., director of the Mailman School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and president of The Children’s Health Fund, says, “This crisis is an unprecedented threat to the well-being of children in the Gulf. We are just weeks away from the next hurricane season, with almost nothing done to ensure a safe future for families already deeply traumatized by the consequences of Katrina.”

The study concluded that failing to provide stable health and mental health care will likely have long-term consequences. For example, a parent’s untreated depression increases the risk of mental health problems in his or her children, who in this case are already psychologically vulnerable. Operation Assist has recommended a review of disaster preparedness planning for both mid-term and long-term recovery efforts to reconstitute medical care and mental health systems. The program also recommends providing continuity of care. Additional planning should address the ability of schools to reach out and engage students and their families in emergency and transitional housing settings.

For the full study findings and analysis visit www.ncdp.mailman.columbia.edu/files/marshall_plan.pdf

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