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Health Care Scarce for Many in New Orleans

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Health Care Scarce for Many in New Orleans

Katrina & Beyond

Health Care Scarce for Many in New Orleans

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. President Bush travels to the Gulf Coast tomorrow, with stops in Mississippi and New Orleans. That city's had a bit of Mardi Gras fun, and now returns its attention to the struggle to recover after Katrina. NPR's Noah Adams has an update on two questions facing people. First, what if you get sick and don't have a doctor? And second, what if you are Hispanic, undocumented and pregnant?

NOAH ADAMS: Let's start with the doctor situation. This month, volunteer groups organized a Greater New Orleans Medical Recovery Week - trailers and tents in a park. And the word went out: if you're hurting and need help, get to New Orleans east, and you better come early.

Unidentified Child: Mommy, mommy, (unintelligible).

ADAMS: Waiting inside a tent on a chair with her kids is Lucia Parker(ph).

What time did you get here this morning?

Ms. LUCIA PARKER: Four-twenty AM.

ADAMS: And were there people before you?

Ms. PARKER: I was number 304.

ADAMS: What's the earliest you heard about somebody coming?

Ms. PARKER: 11:00 last night.

ADAMS: Lucia Parker - before the storm, she worked in a hospital, had medical insurance. But St. Charles General closed. Now there's job, no insurance, no care.

Ms. PARKER: All of my primary care doctors are gone. They're not here anymore. So basically, you have to ask around, like where's a good doctor? Where's a doctor that you can afford?

ADAMS: Also waiting is Gordon Nunez(ph). He does have work as an electrician, but not this morning because his ear is swollen and painful. He tried a hospital emergency room. That seemed impossible, so he came here.

Mr. GORDON NUNEZ: I have abscess in my ear. I keep on getting them. I hope I get to see somebody.

Unidentified Man: It's lunch time. Everybody, come on and get yourself a hot bowl of soup and a sandwich. Let's have lunch, folks.

ADAMS: The medical volunteers get together in one of the smaller tents. Dr. Teck Kim Khoo came to New Orleans this week with more than 30 of his colleagues.

Dr. TECK KIM KHOO (Volunteer, Greater New Orleans Medical Recovery Week): It's been a really very fulfilling experience because, you know, I practice at a Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. And so the patients we see are nothing like the ones you see here. In fact, I saw a gentlemen who had a kidney transplant from diabetes, and he couldn't afford his anti-rejection medication, and so he stopped everything, and he lost the new kidney.

ADAMS: Medical Recovery Week in New Orleans: 871 volunteers. Number of patients treated: about 4,000.

And now the second question about New Orleans health care. Right after the storm, Hispanic workers came for the cleanup and rebuilding. They often brought families, and soon the Hispanic birth rate soared. Dr. Kevin Work is among those who saw the need. He set up a clinic in the uptown section of New Orleans.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Spanish spoken)

Dr. KEVIN WORK (Obstetrician): She can take this when she feels nauseated, okay?

Unidentified Woman #2: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Spanish spoken)

ADAMS: I talked with Dr. Work during a quiet moment at his New Orleans home. His clinic, he said, was busy right from the start. Now he's doing two afternoons and one morning a week.

Dr. WORK: One lady came in for her first prenatal visit. We drew everything. Two days later, she delivered.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADAMS: Dr. Work says he has heard people say the Hispanic families, mostly undocumented, just want to have babies here so they can stay. That doesn't match his experience.

Dr. WORK: A lot of them are very distraught because they don't want to be pregnant. They want to work. They want to - and I see them. They'll come in with plaster under their fingernails, you know, knees dirty at 35, 36 weeks, you know, laying floor. I'm like, so what do you do? Oh, you know, I hang sheet rock.

ADAMS: Kevin Werk charges what he calls break-even prices for his prenatal care. He is paid for deliveries. He's on call around the clock. And when his patients head for a hospital, he wants to be there.

Dr. WORK: I walk at 3:00 in the morning. Lots of things are happening quickly, and they look over, and they see me, and oh, okay, it's Dr. Work. He's somebody know, and we'll crack a few jokes through the translators and then go on in and do the delivery. And then, you know, whenever you have decisions that have to be made - C-sections or - they feel a lot more comfortable when I'm there making that as opposed to a complete stranger.

ADAMS: Dr. Kevin Work in New Orleans. Many of his patients deliver under what's called emergency Medicaid. If they arrive at the hospital already in labor, they can stay 24 hours without charge - 48 hours for a Cesarean section. The baby is, by birthright, a citizen of the United States. Noah Adams, NPR News.

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