Charlotte Parent: Hurricane Katrina Revealed Gaps in Services

Hurricane Katrina revealed the gaps in public health services in New Orleans, especially for those living in poverty, said Charlotte Parent, director of health of the New Orleans Health Department.

Hurricane Katrina revealed the gaps in public health services in New Orleans, especially for those living in poverty, said Charlotte Parent, director of health of the New Orleans Health Department. Now, the department’s goal is realizing that every part affects the whole and that every entity determines public well being.

Transcript (modified)

What did Hurricane Katrina reveal about public health and prevention in New Orleans?

I think, in general, what Katrina uncovered is that the majority of the work that was going on was structured around safety net services. And while there was work going on around emergency preparedness, you know, none of that had ever really been tested to the ends that Katrina did.

The other piece that, of course, Katrina revealed to everyone was those big gaps in what services were out there, and not only in terms of healthcare but also the amount of poverty in that city. The amount of people who had no access to basic issues like transportation, and who had food deserts, and those different areas became exacerbated after Katrina because all of those things went away.

And so as neighborhoods were not populated, those services did not always come back rather quickly—and all of those pieces and parts had to do with health. You know, as we talk about social determinacy and all of that, we got to see social determinacy, or the lack of the things to alleviate social determinacy.

It’s not all rosy. I mean, we still have a lot of work to do, but I think what we’ve tried to do is change the conversation around all those other entities and departments that deal with social determinacy and say, “Whatever you’re doing affects the health of this community.” And so when they take it and they’re looking at it, that they look at it through a lens of the actions they take, for that determinant actually affects whether or not we have a healthy community, and link those pieces together.

So I think that’s what Katrina helped to change for us and transform: how we look at this part of every entity now versus in a silo by itself. And if you fix direct healthcare and you give people access it’s going to take care of the problem—we all know now that that’s not the case.