Gulf area emergency care still not recovered

The emergency care system in Gulf Coast areas devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita still has not recovered and progress is slow, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) reports.

In an ACEP survey of 59 physicians in the affected areas, 93% said bed capacity was at least 25% below what was needed to care for patients, while 96% said their emergency department (ED) was experiencing staffing shortages in areas such as nursing.

Eighty-seven percent reported increases in the number of uninsured patients seeking emergency care. One-third of respondents said some parts of the medical care system had experienced significant progress, while one-third said they would consider leaving to practice in another state if the post-hurricane recovery was not sufficiently improved in another year.

Katrina survivors still suffer limited access to care

Survivors of Hurricane Katrina continued to suffer emotional and mental trauma and limited access to care and medications for months after the storm, largely because of a sharp reduction in charity care and lack of insurance, according to a recent report.

The Kaiser Family Foundation interviewed low-income victims of the storm in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Houston five to six months after the hurricane struck, and found that many went without or experienced gaps in care, had difficulty accessing mental health services, lacked transportation to needed health care, or could not afford both health care and other basic needs.

The report "underscores the need for health care planning to be an integral part of the overall homeland security infrastructure," said Ernie Schmid, director of policy analysis for the Texas Hospital Association. "Provisions must be made for both acute and primary health care needs, and the response must involve a broad range of health care providers across traditional jurisdictional lines."