New Orleans AIDS Agencies Struggle
April 14, 2006
Government and community-based HIV/AIDS agencies in New Orleans are still struggling in the aftermath of August's Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city and, ultimately, changed the face of its epidemic. All HIV services were shut down for several weeks after Katrina.
"Five of our 10 community-based prevention contractors basically went out of business due to heavy damage to their buildings and because they experienced a big loss of their staff in terms of people who decided not to return to New Orleans," said Beth Scalco, director of Louisiana's Office of Public Health HIV/AIDS Program.
The Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans HIV Outpatient Program (HOP), a major provider of primary and specialty care to the under- and uninsured, operates out of cramped temporary headquarters, offering reduced services. Patients who need a specialist are sent to Houma or Baton Rouge, 60 and 90 miles away, respectively.
HOP's clients are now 80 percent male, up from 65 percent before Katrina, possibly because gay clients were less likely than heterosexuals to have to relocate school-aged kids. HOP's Latino client population doubled, as many Mexicans arrived to work in construction. However, HOP has seen just 850 clients since November, compared to about 3,300 per year previously.
The NO/AIDS Task Force's HIV clinic is seeing "no more than half" its pre-Katrina patient numbers, said Noel Twilbeck Jr., its executive director. "We lost about a third of the staff because of people being displaced by the hurricane." NOATF's offices had no electricity until January, said Twilbeck.
A lot of people evacuated without medication and were unable to access it elsewhere, and it took a long time to reconnect them to medical care, said Scalco. AIDS Drug Assistance Program benefits and eligibility criteria vary by state, she said, leaving some patients' treatment insecure or inconsistent. Alabama's ADAP had a waiting list, though Scalco said officials there were accommodating. The Texas program had no waiting list.
Windy City Times
04.05.2006; Rex Wockner