Hurricane Katrina wasn’t the biggest thing on the mind of Loretta Jones. That honor went to the wedding of her daughter, Lauren, who got married on the 27th of August, two days before the storm’s arrival. “It was a beautiful day, you could say the calm before the storm.” Like many New Orleanians, the Jones family hunkered down and rode out many storms, even ones with a city-called evacuation. “After the wedding and cleaning up all day Sunday, we were too exhausted to leave,” she says.
Early Monday morning, the First Lady of Genesis Ministry COGIC was awakened by Katrina’s impact and her husband’s attempts to fight the wind and rain coming through the patio door of their New Orleans East home. When she checked to see what was happening, she noticed water rushing down her street and before she could tell her husband about the water, they were in a chest-deep deluge in their home.
Fortunately, they were able to quickly find safety on higher ground. They spent almost a week on the campus of the University of New Orleans and eventually made it to the Louis Armstrong International Airport where they were picked up by family who hosted them in LaPlace, Louisiana, about 30 miles northwest of New Orleans.
While this story sounds familiar, what makes Jones’ experience different is that she’s a licensed clinical social worker and as a mental health professional, she’s a part of a group of people charged with helping others during the crises of Katrina while figuring out how to rebuild their own lives. “I believe many mental health professionals who lived through Katrina have had to deal with our own experiences, but continue to provide support services to those in need.”
The need for support services increased more than ever following the storm. “There were many, even some in my own family, who had to walk over dead bodies in the water to get to safety.” As a result of over a million people displaced, keeping track of who needed what was almost impossible and that left some of the area’s most vulnerable in even more need.
The Center for Disease Control’s 2006 report, “Assessment of Health-Related Needs after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita” offers startling numbers. About 7 weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, almost half of the adult residents showed emotional distress and the possible need for mental health services. Another study found that over 52% of residents continued to experience poor mental and physical health 15 months after Katrina. “Trends have been that people were homeless, displaced unable to continue their mental health or physical treatment as they knew it prior to Katrina,” Jones added.
With Louisiana in such dire need for mental health service, it would be expected that the former Secretary for Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals would ensure adequate and consistent funding for the mental and physical needs for his state. However, under the Presidential hopeful’s administration, several mental health hospitals have been shuttered. Jones noted, “Mental health services in Louisiana have been affected by the cuts Governor Jindal has made. Many services have been consolidated and, in many cases, made it even more difficult for people to receive treatment.”
Immediately following Katrina, mental health services in New Orleans were non-existent for at least a month. Because neighboring Jefferson Parish received far less damage, it was able to provide services and function as a base for those in mental health. “Many of us who worked in mental health in Orleans [Parish] often met in Jefferson to make plans for returning services to the citizens of New Orleans,” Jones reflected.
Considering where New Orleans is today over the course of a decade of rebuilding, Jones would give the city’s recovery a “B.” She says that although she loves her city and has lived there since the age of 5, she’s concerned about the seemingly daily murders.
“For me, sometimes it’s emotionally draining. It’s like when we make one step forward, we take two steps back.”