One year old Will is back in the doctor’s office. “His allergies,” says mother Jennifer Barrett, “is acting up and his skin is like worse.
Two-year-old Alicia’s nose won’t stop running. Her grandmother, Tammy Ortolano, says, “This is about the second or third time we’ve been here since the hurricane.”
It’s been eight months and Hurricane Katrina continues to do harm — especially to the bodies and minds of children. A just-released study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and The Children’s Health Fund says displaced families are suffering chronic health conditions like asthma and other illnesses, rates far above the national average and which threaten to overwhelm health care providers.
“I mean our patient load has doubled and tripled at some points,” says pediatrician Dr. Corey Hebert.
Investigators interviewed families living in FEMA-provided housing and found 34 percent have at least one child diagnosed with a chronic medical condition.
Fourteen percent of children went without prescription medication at some point after the storm, forcing some into hospitals.
Parents struggle with their own health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer— and how to pay for treatment. 44 percent say they lost medical insurance after Katrina took their job.
Half of parents surveyed also reported at least one child has emotional or behavioral problems.
In a suburban New Orleans classroom, students are carefully watched for signs of stress that is only expected to increase.
Pauline Thomas is the coordinator for Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities in Jefferson Parish. “Knowing that hurricane season is upon us again,” Thomas says, “is a traumatic experience for the children and the adults.”
The Columbia study documents what many in Katrina’s wake already knew: victims still struggle with the devastation around them because many are still struggle with the devastation within them.