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Community News
Psychiatrist Victimized by Rita Continues to Put Patients First
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 20 page 5-5

Psychiatrist James B. Creed Jr., M.D., watched Beaumont, Texas, turn from sanctuary to target as Katrina gave way to Rita.

Beaumont took in 4,000 evacuees from New Orleans after the first storm, then the entire town was itself evacuated before the second hurricane hit.

Creed helped move patients from the 16 nursing homes he covers in his practice and managed to get to a friend's farm just 45 minutes before Rita struck. Directly in Rita's path, the farmhouse and one of his cars were destroyed, but Creed and his wife survived.

"I've lived in this area all my life, and this is the closest I've come to death," said Creed from his refuge at his sister's house in Houston. He is president of the Southeast Texas chapter of the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians.

As he spoke at the end of September, word was that no one would be allowed back into Beaumont for 30 days. Two of the three power stations were destroyed and the third damaged. There was no water or sewage service in the city, and both hospitals were closed.

Aside from being alive, Creed had two bits of good news, both technological. For one, he had switched to an electronic medical records system in 1993 and thus left Beaumont with all his patient records back to 1981 on his laptop. He also used a phone company voicemail system, which was soon accessible again by way of his cell phones. All of the other 10 or so psychiatrists in the Beaumont area depended on a live answering service whose operators had evacuated too. As a result, Creed not only began to hear from patients scattered across half a dozen states, but volunteered to be a contact person for his equally dispersed colleagues.

He was soon inundated with phone calls from patients to renew prescriptions. Although many patients had relocated out of state, no pharmacy had refused to fill a prescription they had brought with them or for which they needed a refill, he said.

As he filed insurance claims and bought new clothes late in September, his future seemed uncertain but not discouraging.

"I'll be one of the first back into the city, and I'll be helping other people help themselves," he vowed.

Meanwhile, farther east, conditions remained primitive although there were some signs of recovery. Communication was still a problem, although cell-phone service and some utilities were coming back online in the Pascagoula/Biloxi area and much of Gulfport, Mississippi Psychiatric Association President Elizabeth Henderson, M.D., said in late September. Severe structural damage was widespread, and she feared the official death toll would rise. Some Gulfport mental health center staff had not returned by September's end, and many of those who were back were camping out in tents, with no running water or electricity.

Communication and coordination continued to be extremely problematic. Although state health authorities were working on a master mental health plan, some key stake-holders had not yet been included, she said.

"They have not reached out to the mental health center directors in the affected areas, and they have not taken into account wider psychiatric needs like helping local employers and human resources departments, coordinating with primary care doctors, and providing psychiatric support in the local hospitals and emergency rooms," she said.

If making the best of a bad situation was the prevailing attitude, she had also heard about fits of irritability, jumpiness, and total meltdowns, often due to evacuees' frustration after waiting for services and then being told they were in the wrong line or ineligible for a particular benefit. ▪

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