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
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. ▪