Tag Archives: hurricane katrina

For psyches, Gulf is Valdez on ‘fast forward’

CNN’s Jessica Ravitz reports that the damage to Gulf communities in the wake of the spill has played out like a faster version of the disintegration of Cordova, Alaska, in the wake of Exxon Valdez. Unfortunately, she writes, that doesn’t mean a quicker route to recovery. It just means a deeper dive into discombobulation and destruction. Ravitz profiles the local victims and those reaching out to help them. In the process, she paints a bleak long-term picture.

Concern about communities sends [environmental sociologist Steven] Picou on an 80-mile drive west to Bayou La Batre, a small fishing town on the opposite side of Mobile Bay. He’s traveling around the Gulf Coast to where people are hurting – to start conversations, impart what he’s learned and teach people how to listen to each other. It’s a response modeled after programs devised in Alaska.

“Unlike a natural disaster where you have a therapeutic community emerging to help you rebuild, we know that in Alaska a corrosive community emerged,” he says. “All of a sudden you have this incredible collapse of community capital.”

He describes how people may self-isolate to cope and how their distrust of others will grow and likely spread. Cynicism about BP, he says, will move on to the federal government, the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, local governments, neighbors. Even family.

Ravitz looks at the strong sense of community now present in these places and whether the changes wrought by an influx of new people and money from BP will be permanent. She also reports that domestic violence shelters and hotlines are busier than ever as stress builds and and oil workers, who used to be away from home for weeks at a time, are now stuck on land.

For its part, BP has so far declined a request from Louisiana for $10 million for mental health aid for its residents. Catholic Charities is waiting to hear from BP about another grant that includes about $1.2 million for counseling. Peer-to-peer counseling programs, in which local residents are trained to reach out to other community members, have been launched. One mental health worker says people who were affected by Katrina have been “re-traumatized” by the oil spill.

Fink wins Dart award for Memorial story

AHCJ member Sheri Fink’s 13,000-word piece on the difficult choices made at Memorial Hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina continues its run this awards season, adding the 2010 Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma to the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, second place in the large magazine category of AHCJ’s 2009 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, and numerous other honors. It originally ran in The New York Times Magazine and on the ProPublica Web site.

A project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma focuses on reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy. It has awarded the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma since 1994.

Fink wrote an article for AHCJ members about how she reported the story and her insights for others undertaking long-form investigative reporting.

What really happened at Memorial after Katrina?

In a story that is being co-published by The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, Sheri Fink, M.D., painstakingly reconstructed the hectic, troubling events that transpired at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina swept through the city. In that time, 45 patients died at the center – more than at any comparable hospital in the area – and, although a grand jury did not issue any indictments in relation to the deaths, there are indications that some of the deceased patients may have been euthanized.

Fink “obtained previously unavailable records and interviewed dozens of people who were involved in the events at Memorial and the investigation that followed.” She writes that more medical professionals and more patients were involved than previously thought and that “Several were almost certainly not near death when they were injected, according to medical professionals who treated them at Memorial and an internist’s review of their charts and autopsies that was commissioned by investigators but never made public.”

In addition to the doctors, nurses and patients involved in the controversial deaths, Fink also tells the story of the coroner and investigators charged with untangling the post-Katrina events at Memorial Medical Center and how they struggled to administer justice while taking into account the extraordinary circumstances that followed the hurricane.

The extensive package includes a video interview with Fink about how her background as a physician, humanitarian aid workers and previous reporting on medical care in wartime conditions helped her report this story.

GAO on Katrina: Fed. grants helpful, not sufficient

A pair of Government Accountability Office reports evaluating the progress of ongoing post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts – one looking at mental health services for children (highlights, full report), the other at organizations providing primary health care (highlights, full report) – find that while federal grants have had an impact in both areas, there is still considerable work to be done.


Photo by AuthenticEccentric via Flickr

In terms of mental health services for children, the GAO reports that progress has been made in recruiting and funding providers — school-based programs have been particularly successful – and in providing the transportation needed by children and families hoping to take advantage of such services. Obstacles include a lack of stable housing for many children and funding shortage looming on the horizon as many hurricane-related grants will dry up in 2010.

In 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded Louisiana a $100 million grant targeted to restore primary care services to low-income populations. The state passed that money on to 25 outpatient providers in the greater New Orleans area. Most of those organizations, the GAO found, used that money to hire additional staff. Many also expanded the services they offered and added new sites or improved existing ones. The report does not come to a conclusion as to the long-term sustainability of the project.

Both GAO reports should serve as reminders that efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina are ongoing. The reviews show that the GAO hasn’t taken its eye off the affected areas, and neither should journalists.