[StBernard] Landrieu Chairs Hearing on Post-Hurricane Mental Health

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Thu Nov 1 21:38:01 EDT 2007

Landrieu Chairs Hearing on Post-Hurricane Mental Health Examines growing
crisis on Gulf Coast.

WASHINGTON - Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster
Recovery Subcommittee Chairman Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today held a hearing
on the growing mental health care needs in the Gulf Coast and the lack of
infrastructure and psychiatric professionals to deal with the problem.

"Katrina and Rita survivors are suffering from the extreme emotional impact
of this catastrophic disaster," Sen. Landrieu said. "The stress from the
storms and the hardships in rebuilding have hit a level that can only be
described as a crisis and is a serious barrier to our recovery."

Data from the New Orleans Coroner's Office indicates that New Orleans'
suicide rate has tripled, and in the last six months of 2006, the murder
rate in Orleans Parish doubled. A recent Louisiana State University Health
Sciences Center survey of 1,638 school children grades four to 12 found that
54 percent met the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or

In August of 2006, only 77 of the 460 pre-Katrina, New Orleans psychiatric
beds were available, forcing hospitals to turn away even suicidal patients.
Only 22 of 196 psychiatrists are still practicing in New Orleans. Waiting
lists for mental health counseling have grown from days to weeks.

Louisiana doctors representing state and local mental health
care agencies testified that many Gulf Coast residents with no troubles
before the storms are experiencing mental health problems.

"They are fearful and anxious about the next storm and living in
a trailer," said Dr. Anthony Speier, Director of Disaster Mental Health
Operations at the Louisiana Office of Mental Health. We need a "national
strategy for psychological first aid," he added. Speier also said that the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was too rigid in its rules about
how states and localities can spend funds for mental health.

Dr. Jan Kasofsky, executive director of Capital Area Human Services
District, the Baton Rouge public health agency, said that lack of available
and affordable housing in the Gulf Coast is a significant challenge to the
mental health of post-Katrina and Rita affected communities.

"Housing is so critical," she said. "It's just not feasible to stabilize
people when they're half living on the street or in a car."

Sen. Landrieu has sponsored legislation, the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act
of 2007, S. 1668, to replace occupied affordable housing units that were
destroyed in the hurricanes. The bill also will authorize funding for the
multi-billion Road Home shortfall. The bipartisan legislation is a companion
bill to legislation passed in the House with the support of every member of
the Louisiana House delegation, Republicans and Democrats.

Sen. Landrieu also today pushed Kathryn Power, director of the Center for
Mental Health Services under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration (SAMHSA), to recognize the extent of the disaster in the Gulf
Coast. SAMHSA, which oversees federal mental health care grants, excluded
the Louisiana Rural Trauma Services Center, a successful program that
provides care to children affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A
Landrieu amendment to restore priority grant funding to programs serving
children impacted by the hurricanes was included in the Senate-passed Labor,
Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education Appropriations bill, H.R.

Children, in particular, are experiencing mental trauma in the aftermath of
the hurricanes, said Dr. Howard Osofsky, chairman of the Department of
Psychiatry at the LSU Health Sciences Center.

"Without adequate mental health services, we can count on these children
having increased incidences of posttraumatic stress disorder and depression,
and decreased ability to meet their potential," he said.

Sen. Landrieu discussed solutions with the witnesses, such as instituting a
more robust mental health care plan in schools, programs to provide
psychiatry services over the phone and targeted funding to recruit more
psychiatrists to meet the demand in the Gulf Coast.

"We need to develop better strategies for dealing with the ongoing mental
health care emergency in the Gulf Coast," Sen. Landrieu said. "My
subcommittee will continue working with the experts who testified today to
develop a plan to overcome this situation plaguing our communities and to
better prepare for future disasters that strike the United States, be they
natural or manmade."

Also testifying before the subcommittee were Dr. Jan Kasofsky, Executive
Director, Capital Area Human Services District; Dr. Kevin Stephens,
Director, New Orleans Health Department; Dr. Ronald Kessler, Harvard
Professor of Health Care Policy, Chair of the Hurricane Katrina Advisory
Group; and Dr. Mark Townsend, Professor and Vice Chair for General
Psychiatry, Director of Psychiatry, Medical Center of Louisiana at New

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