Children’s mobile health center unveiled in Port SulphurOct 19th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: news
On the Eastbank and southern part of Plaquemines Parish, people often have to travel long distances for work, recreation and everyday needs. And since Hurricane Katrina, many of those things seem all the more distant.
But one crucial service – access to medical care for children – has now returned, if only in limited part, to the southern part of the parish in Port Sulphur. That access to pediatric care comes in the form of a specially outfitted Crisis Health Unit bus from the Children’s Health Fund.
Representatives from Children’s Health Fund, a national organization that promotes access to health care for children, were in Port Sulphur Oct. 8 to formally unveil the mobile health bus. Children’s Health Fund has been active in the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina, but it was the BP oil spill that turned co-founder Irwin Redlener’s eye toward Plaquemines Parish.
“Since we’d been working in the region [since Hurricane Katrina], it was totally unexpected to us when this industrial calamity happened – the explosion of the rig, the loss of the lives and the aftermath of this unending amount of oil spewing,” Redlener said. “We were concerned about the effects on the people who lived here. We wanted to come see for ourselves.”
Redlener said that what he saw and the people he spoke with left a lasting impression.
“We were really very affected by what we heard from adults, kids and everybody,” he said. “A 9-year-old boy said something I’ve never heard come out of a young child’s mouth. He said, ‘Our way of life is being destroyed.’ That’s a very different thing from ‘I’m sad,’ ‘I’m worried,’ or ‘My mom and dad are having trouble.’”
Children’s Health Fund conducted a study of the physical and mental health effects that the oil spill has had on children in the Gulf Coast region. The results were startling.
“More than one in three children were having severe anxiety, psychological problems or nuances that they didn’t have before the spill. That’s when we committed to actually doing something about it rather than talking about it,” Redlener said.
Children’s Health Fund soon partnered with Tulane University and Plaquemines Community CARE Center to bring the mobile health unit to Port Sulphur near South Plaquemines High School. To start, Dr. John Carleson from New Orleans will see patients on Fridays only. The CARE Center will receive calls during the week for Friday appointments.
Parents interested in making an appointment for their children can call the CARE Center at 504.717.5670. Adults with health needs may call that number as well. The bus will be equipped to provide medical screenings and treatment, vaccinations, mental health examination and some dental work.
Carleson said that, as the demand for services goes up, the mobile health unit will be open more days of the week at several locations throughout the parish.
And for a parish that’s been hit with more than its share of hardships over the last five years, the new access for medical care nearby is a huge step forward.
“There’s no where else in America that needs this more than in Plaquemines Parish,” Parish President Billy Nungesser said at the dedication ceremony. “I don’t think there’s anything we’ve done during this disaster that’s more important than what we’re doing here today.”
Alina Olteanu, medical director for New Orleans Children’s Health Project, agreed.
“To me, the health of a child is tied to the health of the community,” she said.
Kindra Arnesen, who has been an outspoken advocate for the Gulf Coast during the BP oil spill, spoke as a mother to the crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony.
“I am completely beyond thrilled to be here today. I don’t have words to express what this means to me,” she said. “For me to see that we’re going to have a mobile medical unit in our own back yard in Plaquemines Parish – I didn’t even sleep last night.”
Children’s Health Fund was founded in 1987 by Redlener and singer/songwriter Paul Simon. Redlener said he and Simon started the organization with a very simple mission in mind: to take medical clinic care to the people who need it most instead of asking them to come to health care facilities. Few communities can appreciate such a service like Plaquemines Parish where a trip to the doctor post-Katrina can take all day because of the long distance.
In 23 years, Children’s Health Fund has grown to be the nation’s leading pediatric provider of mobile-based health care for homeless and low-income children and their families. Children’s Health Fund currently operates 50 mobile medical clinics throughout the country. Over the past 23 years, Children’s Health Fund has sponsored more than 2 million health care visits for disadvantaged children.
For more information, visit www.childrenshealthfund.org.