Louisiana Flooding: Emergency Response Update From the Field

Kate Dischino, AmeriCares Director of Emergency Response, just returned from the greater Baton Rouge area where she assessed needs following the devastating flooding that began in mid-August. She tells us about the challenges survivors and recovery volunteers are facing and gives us an update on the critical role AmeriCares is playing both to ensure survivors have access to health care and to support their recovery from the disaster.

Q: Can you tell us what you are seeing on the ground?

Dischino: While the flood waters have receded and some shelters have closed, thousands remain displaced and hundreds are still in shelters. Residents able to return to their communities have started the overwhelming task of sorting through damaged belongings. Driving up and down streets you see piles of personal items, household items and family heirlooms — now destroyed and stacked for trash collection.

Q: How is AmeriCares working to meet the health and safety needs of survivors and those involved in early recovery efforts?

Dischino: Our priority continues to be ensuring people in affected areas have access to health services. AmeriCares relief workers are providing affected families with access to critical medicines and relief supplies. We are also working with nonprofit organizations to provide personal protective equipment so volunteers are protected and can safely engage in clean-up activities. At the same time, we are putting needed resources in the hands of volunteers to detect and prevent mold, such as moisture meters and dehumidifiers.

Q: It’s been reported that nearly 70 health facilities have closed due to the storm. What is AmeriCares doing to ensure patients continue to have access to health care?

Dischino: We are working with two rural health clinics that were destroyed by the flooding to ensure that they can continue seeing patients. This includes helping them secure temporary clinic space, providing medical equipment such as exam chairs, and replacing medication and supplies destroyed by the flooding. These clinics are often the only health care option for residents, some who travel more than 30 miles to seek primary care, women’s health, mental health and other services. If these clinics are not open, patients with new health needs from the storm or minor injuries sustained during clean-up will need to travel further to access health services or forgo medical care.

Q: Today is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Greater New Orleans area of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region in 2005. Given your leadership position in National VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), what other issues do you anticipate will need to be addressed?

Dischino: The nonprofit community has been severely impacted by this crisis, as it was during Hurricane Katrina. The services and support of the voluntary community is critical to the recovery of survivors. But when responders and volunteers are also disaster survivors themselves, we recognize that there can be an opportunity to respond to their needs by offering psychosocial support. AmeriCares has developed a Resilience and Coping for the Healthcare Community (RCHC) Workshop to support health workers and social service providers in disaster-affected communities. Once immediate needs are met, our RCHC workshop can help those who play the dual role of survivor and caregiver through this challenging time by offering group-based psychoeducational services — like we did after Katrina.

Background: AmeriCares has deployed two emergency response teams and delivered 10 aid shipments to support residents of flooded communities. This includes supplying diabetes medication, tetantus vaccines, nutritional supplements, hygiene kits, first aid supplies and bottled water. Working with our local partners — including food banks, social service organizations, free clinics and shelters, AmeriCares is helping to coordinate the rapid distribution of these essential medicines and supplies. In the coming weeks, AmeriCares will continue to meet emerging and ongoing needs, including continued assistance for displaced families and support for health care workers assisting affected populations.

For more information about AmeriCares, visit our website: www.americares.org