As the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina subsided, many of the desperately needed medical services were washed away with them. Before the storm, there were seven hospitals in operation in New Orleans. Now, the New Orleans Health Department says there are only three. The storm displaced nearly 4,500 doctors in the city, and approximately half of them had not returned by August 2007.
"We just don't have the hospital beds. We don't have the doctors. We don't have the nurses. We don't have the clinics," says New Orleans health director Dr. Kevin Stephens.
Among the facilities in New Orleans that have remained closed since the hurricane is Charity Hospital, which once helped patients without insurance. Now, those without medical insurance—an overwhelming 98,000 people—must go to University Hospital, a facility with only 179 staffed beds.
The situation in Mississippi isn't much better. Dalwin Cuevas, a 41-year-old construction worker, says he is unemployed due to his illness. "I go to the hospital and the doctors turn me away. I don't have insurance," he says. "I lay here in this camper until my kidneys shut down and then they [have] to keep me in the hospital."
In the face of these hardships, some residents don't seek medical help at all—and doctors say the breakdown in the system has led to grave consequences. Since Hurricane Katrina, the death rate in New Orleans has risen 50 percent.