Past Releases: Post-Katrina Mental Health Provider Survey
Washington, DC (August 22, 2007) —Troubling new research shows that four out of five mental health and addiction providers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge are seeing a marked increase in major depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction disorders two years after the region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. About half of providers say they are personally experiencing “burnout” as they struggle to deal with the increased workload and their own challenges living and working in the area.
“We know that the crisis has worsened for many affected by Hurricane Katrina, in particular those experiencing mental health and addiction disorders,” says Linda Rosenberg, MSW, President and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. “While state officials in Louisiana say they don’t need additional funding for mental health and addiction services, we are not seeing the impact of the dollars they claim to have. We still don’t have adequate staff and resources to meet this overwhelming human need.”
The National Council, which commissioned a regional provider survey to assess mental health and addiction needs in New Orleans and Baton Rouge two years after Katrina, released its findings today.
Survey respondents say they are battling a lack of adequate staffing and facilities at the same time that demand for services has increased. More than half of those surveyed say additional staff is needed to share heavy workloads. Respondents also explain that challenging living and working conditions significantly increase their own frustrations and ability to deal with the workload; one half of providers surveyed cited “lack of livable infrastructure” as a major challenge. For example, many report that that they have not been able to rebuild their own homes, and some are still living and working out of FEMA trailers. A few providers even noted their own mental health concerns as they try to deal with life two years after Katrina.
Despite these enormous challenges, the survey finds that four out of five providers do not intend to leave the area. “These dedicated professionals are the true heroes. They are committed to serving the patients who desperately need their help,” Rosenberg emphasizes. However, she notes that additional resources are badly needed so providers can better serve the needs of patients in the area, and funds must be applied to pay competitive salaries to attract and retain more professionals. More than three-fourths of those surveyed say increased financial compensation is important, and one-third say additional training to treat the range of illnesses now prevalent would be helpful.
“We need to recognize the extreme challenges these providers now face and develop programs that assist and support them,” Rosenberg stresses. “We must ensure that mental health and addiction services are seen as critical in the areas devastated by Katrina.”
One-half of respondents say that the treatment system serving people with mental illness and addiction disorders needs to be restructured to better address patient needs.
Rosenberg also emphasizes that the behavioral health system in New Orleans and Baton Rouge continues to have structural problems that must be addressed.“ The flood waters have now receded, but the system is still mired down,” she warns.
Rosenberg notes that while the emergency support for mental health and addictions immediately following the disaster was crucial, it needs to be sustained by longer-term solutions. “Post-Katrina, the National Council launched Project Helping Hands to support mental health and addiction providers coping with increased caseloads while dealing with their own trauma as first responders,” Rosenberg explains. Project Helping Hands, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, helped mental health and addiction treatment centers pay for crisis counseling, case management and medication, as well as added staff to meet the increased demand for services.
“Two years after the Katrina disaster, the mental health and addiction treatment needs of people in the area cannot remain on the back burner. These people have suffered a great deal, they continue to suffer, and providers need resources to continue to help them,” says Rosenberg.
The National Council online survey covered mental health and addiction providers (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, case managers/care coordinators and administrators) operating in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. Individuals surveyed were identified through the following organizations’ published member lists: Louisiana Psychiatric Association, Louisiana Psychological Association, Jefferson Parish Human Service Authority, Capital Area Human Services District, Louisiana Association of Ambulatory Healthcare, Louisiana Public Health Institute, Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals, and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. The survey asked providers about changes in patient caseload, increase/decrease of specific mental health and addiction disorders and satisfaction/challenges in treating patients and working in the profession following Hurricane Katrina. The survey was fielded August 9–20, 2007 and was completed by 161 of 921 providers to whom it was sent, for a response rate of 17.5%. The overall margin of error is +/- 7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) association representing 1,300 mental health and addictions treatment and rehabilitation organizations that serve nearly six million adults, children, and families in communities across America.