Almost 18 months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, thousands of its victims are still without health care. In the first of a two-part report, NewsHour health correspondent Susan Dentzer looks at how doctors are providing some temporary relief.
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SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:
Dr. Joseph Smiddy is a lung specialist who hails from Tennessee, but recently he was working in an unusual space: in the back of a tractor-trailer in New Orleans.
DR. JOSEPH SMIDDY, Lung Specialist:
So our diagnosis would say normal heart size, normal bones…
He'd converted the truck into a portable X-ray unit last year. He and other doctors have seen a need for such a unit when they came to New Orleans to treat victims of Hurricane Katrina.
DR. JOSEPH SMIDDY:
We knew we would be coming back to New Orleans, and we raised the money for a tractor-trailer lid-lined with X-ray to be able to take not just an X-ray, but a high-quality diagnostic X-ray that would enable us to come back here and meet this need that we identified when we were here before. This is the equivalent of a hospital chest X-ray unit on the road.
He even went to truck driving school so he could pilot the trailer here himself. Smiddy was one of several hundred health care providers from around the country who headed back to New Orleans recently for what was billed as medical recovery week. It was a health fair on the grounds of Joe Brown Park in a still-distressed part of east New Orleans.
This is the second free health fair New Orleans has held in the past year. Almost 18 months after Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people here are still jobless or without health insurance, and they lack access to everything from chronic disease treatment to mental health care.
To make matters worse, fewer than a third of the city's health care providers have returned. So the international relief groups Operation Blessing and Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, or RAM, came together to organize this year's fair. RAM's founder is Stan Brock.
STAN BROCK, Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps:
I got a call from Dr. Kevin Stephens, the director of the city health department, asking us if we would come down. He said, oh, we've got a lot of needs in dental and we've got a lot of needs in vision.
And, of course, the other run-of-the-mill medical problems that just indicate that the services really aren't back up to speed here yet, even after all this time.