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National Empowerment Center

APHA Points Out Psychosocial Needs After Katrina


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As we move into week 3 following the Gulf States disaster there is an important need to attend to the psychosocial needs of the survivors. Almost a million persons have been affected and displaced by the disaster. Many thousands have been moved hundreds and even thousands of miles from their homes. Under such conditions we know that unless interventions are undertaken now there will be a high rate of psychosocial disorders and suicides. Children and adults who are deprived of their usual social and support networks are more prone to anxiety, sleep problems, depression and suicide.

The immediate need is to urge the Federal government to use its resources in the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC and to develop a plan which provides a Needs Assessment of the problems we face in this phase of the disaster. HHS is capable of drawing upon experts in disaster management, the use of information technology , psychiatric epidemiology and psychosocial
interventions. CDC can provide accurate information about the problems which need to be addressed.

Communication:

HHS and CDC can and should provide daily information to the media and the public. There is a need for news releases from our authorities. In the past 3 weeks we've had too much speculation and this has resulted in confusion;

Establish operating 800 "hotlines" for survivors. Since the hurricane struck the coastal areas hotlines have not operated. Calls to FEMA are answered by recording (warning also about possible prosecution for false statements and requests for assistance.) Other organization Hotlines need to be available and which can assemble information on location of victims, previous address, family members, etc.;

There is an urgent need for a federally assembled data base.  We need some friendly voices for the survivors to prevent isolation. Phone systems are often inoperative in the gulf states;

Distribute battery operated radios to survivors, (with lots of extra batteries);

Promote social support Networks: Promote all efforts to reduce isolation;

Permit the local community and other Associations to offer assistance (e.g.: WTC 9/11 Families Associations, religious organizations, fraternal groups;

Set up registration tables at all survivor sites. Issue color coded ID cards based on previous neighborhoods (e.g., blue for New Orleans, 9th ward) which can be pinned or displayed;

Encourage the formation of city, town and neighborhood associations and the election of representatives;

Organize Assemblies of survivors and provide such assemblies with secretarial assistance and photocopying assistance.

Enhance Forward thinking and future goals:

Prepare for rebuilding Assess skills, need for job training to rebuild affected areas.

Begin developing plans for building temporary shelters near Disaster areas and longer range reconstruction, start hiring for needed work.

Consider legislation similar to the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973(CETA).

Organizations which can assist in the long term and especially professional associations might wish to set up committees to come up with ideas and support for an immediate Needs Assessment.

Martin Gittelman
Member, APHA Action Board
Exec Sec
Mental Health Workers without Borders