Survey finds many Katrina evacuees had chronic health problems and no health insurance

September 16, 2005

Boston, MA -- To give voice to people whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods, The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a unique survey of evacuees in shelters in the Houston area. One-third (34%) of Katrina evacuees report that they were trapped in their homes and had to be rescued. Half (50%) of those who were trapped said they waited three or more days to be rescued.

More than 1 in 10 (14%) Hurricane Katrina evacuees report a family member, neighbor or friend was killed by the storm or subsequent flooding, and more than half report that their home was destroyed (55%) Also, the survey found that 2 in 5 (40%) spent at least a day living outside on a street or overpass, and 13% report that some members of their immediate family are still missing. The survey also found that evacuees in Houston shelters face serious health challenges that will complicate relief and recovery efforts.

Key health-related findings include:

  • 52% report having no health insurance coverage at the time of the hurricane. Of those with coverage, 34% say it is through Medicaid and 16% through Medicare. Before the hurricane 66% of people evacuated to Houston shelters used hospital or clinics as their main source of care and of those, a majority (54%) used Charity Hospital of New Orleans, substantially more than the second most common care site (University Hospital of New Orleans, at 8%).

  • 33% report experiencing health problems or injuries as a result of the hurricane and 78% of them are currently receiving care for their ailments.

  • 41% report chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and asthma.

  • 43% say they are supposed to be taking prescription medications, and of those, 29% percent report having problems getting the prescription drugs they need.

  • Of the 61% who did not evacuate before the storm, 38% said they were either physically unable to leave or had to care for someone who was physically unable to leave.

  • 39% report that they did not get help from any government agency or voluntary agency during the flood and evacuation.

    The survey design was co-directed by Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It is striking how many days people went without medicine, food and water without help from any agency of government or volunteer group," said Blendon. "Many of those who did not evacuate were in poor health and circumstances to begin with and many said they were physically unable to leave."

    Among those surveyed, 98% are from the New Orleans area. In surviving this tragedy, an overwhelming majority of the evacuees in Houston shelters (92%) say that religion played an important role in helping them get through the past two weeks.

    The Survey of Hurricane Katrina Evacuees is based on a sample of 680 randomly selected adults ages 18 years and older, staying in the Houston Reliant Park Complex (which included the Reliant Astrodome and the Reliant Center), the George R. Brown Convention Center, and five smaller Red Cross shelters in the greater Houston area. Interviews were conducted face-to-face September 10-12, 2005. The margin of error for overall results is plus or minus 4 percentage points.The survey was conducted and analyzed jointly by The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. Interviews were conducted by 28 professional, Houston-based interviewers under the supervision of staff from Kaiser and ICR/International Communications Research, and with input from The Post staff in Houston. The Red Cross gave The Post/Kaiser/Harvard interviewing team permission to interview at the various centers, but was not a co-sponsor of the survey and bears no responsibility for results presented here.

    Full survey toplines and methodology and a link to the Washington Post article are available online.
    -end-
    Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public's health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 300 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 900-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children's health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit: www.hsph.harvard.edu

    Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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