Observations from the free clinic in Biloxi
Mississippi and Louisiana are still devastated from Hurricane Katrina. Access to health care continues as a major need. When the Diocesan Katrina relief team went to Mississippi in March 2006, several members of the team worked in the free medical clinic in Biloxi sponsored by LEDR, the Lutheran Episcopal Disaster Response.
Dr. Linda Brown, a primary care physician, noted, “Ours was a journey of faith, reaching out to strangers in need. Relief work is a wonderful way to make a difference in our world on a personal level. Perhaps I cannot change the course of world politics, but I can reach out, help those who are suffering and make a difference in their lives.”
She described the medical clinic, “We saw patients with acute and chronic medical problems, from sore throats to diabetes, hypertension, COPD. One patient without medical insurance suffered a recent major heart attack. He could not get an appointment with a cardiologist for three months. The psychological needs of these patients often complicated and surpassed their medical problems. Many of these patients have lost their homes, jobs or family and feel overwhelmed. Anxiety, depression and pain were prominent. The clinic stressed the importance of talking with each patient about how his or her life has changed since Katrina.”
Bill Theisen, a nurse who worked in triage and the pharmacy, focused on the central role of faith. “Most of us consider our work in the healing professions to be our Christian vocation. God has called us to use the gifts He has given us to serve in His Name. The most rewarding - and humbling - aspect of serving in Biloxi was to see God at work in the people we served, in our colleagues, and also in ourselves. It was wonderful to be supported by our teammates in prayer each day. This trip deepened my relationship with Jesus in ways that I could never have expected. It also lets people see that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts is alive and active in ministry. I strongly encourage everyone to consider doing it.”
Donna Mahoney, a nurse who worked in triage, noted, “The free clinic must find a way to survive over the long term. Although Katrina exacerbated many of the medical and mental health issues we witnessed, I am sure that many of these conditions were pre-existing. Folks will continue to have compromised medical services long after the acute ravages of Katrina.”
Donna also described the important role of faith in recovery after Katrina. “In response to the question, ‘What is helping you to get through this difficult time?,’ I would say 80% of those responded with ‘God, faith, prayer’ … powerful stuff!”
Alex MacDonald, a mental health counselor, commented, “The basic needs in Biloxi are many: shelter, food and medical care. However, a chronically underestimated need is that of mental health care. Natural disasters are traumatic experiences, and often cause negative psychological responses including post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. And these problems are not going away with time. In fact, as time passes, people are feeling more overwhelmed, frustrated, helpless at a lack of progress. Yet, the resources to deal with psychological problems are extremely limited in the Gulf region. The waiting time for a mental health care appointment was three months, even if you had medical insurance.”
Dr. Linda Brown, Donna Mahoney and Bill Theisen served as founding members of Samaritans Now due to their experience on the Gulf Coast.