Changes needed in the care for sheltered persons: A multistate analysis from Hurricane Katrina


  • Jennifer Lee Jenkins, MD, MSc
  • Melissa McCarthy, ScD
  • Gabor Kelen, MD
  • Lauren M. Sauer, BA
  • Thomas Kirsch, MD, MPH



emergency medicine, disaster medicine, natural disasters, hurricanes, relief work


Objectives: Following Hurricane Katrina, nearly 1,400 evacuation shelters were opened in 27 states across the nation to accommodate the more than 450,000 evacuees from the gulf region.The levee breaks in New Orleans and storm surge in Mississippi brought about significant morbidity and mortality, ultimately killing more than 1,300 people. The purpose of this study was to summarize the health needs of approximately 30,000 displaced persons who resided in shelters in eight states, including prescription medication needs, dispersement of durable medical equipment, and referrals for further care.
Methods: The first available 31,272 medical encounters forms were utilized as a convenience sample of displaced persons in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Florida. This medical encounter form was completed by volunteer nurses, was standardized across all shelters, and included demographic information, need for acute or preventive care, pre-existing medical conditions, disposition referrals, need for prescription medication, and frequency of volunteer providers who providing care outside of their first-aid scope.
Results: Sheltered persons who received only acute care numbered 11,306 (36.2 percent), and those who received only preventive/chronic care numbered 10,403 (33.3 percent). A similar number, 9,563 (30.6 percent) persons, received both acute and preventive/chronic care. There were 3,356 (10.7 percent) sheltered persons who received some form of durable medical equipment. Glasses were given to 2,124 people (6.8 percent of the total visits receiving them) and were the most commonly dispense item.This is followed by dental devices (495, 1.6 percent) and glucose meters (339, 1.1 percent). Prescriptions were given to 8,154 (29.0 percent) sheltered persons. Referrals were made to 13,815 (44.2 percent) of sheltered persons who presented for medical care. The pharmacy was the most common location for referrals for 5,785 (18.5 percent) of all sheltered persons seeking medical care. Referrals were also made to outpatient clinics 3,856 (12.3 percent), opticians 2,480 (7.9 percent), and public health resources 1,136 (4.3 percent). Only 1,173 (3.8 percent) sheltered persons who presented for medical care and were referred to the emergency department or hospital for further care.
Conclusions: Hurricane Katrina illustrated the need to strengthen the healthcare planning and response in regard to sheltered persons with a particular focus on primary and preventive care services. This study has reemphasized the need for primary medical care and pharmaceuticals in sheltered persons and shown new data regarding the dispersement of durable medical equipment and the frequent need for healthcare beyond the shelter setting as evidenced by referrals.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Lee Jenkins, MD, MSc

Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Melissa McCarthy, ScD

Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Gabor Kelen, MD

Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Lauren M. Sauer, BA

Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Thomas Kirsch, MD, MPH

Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.


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How to Cite

Jenkins, MD, MSc, J. L., M. McCarthy, ScD, G. Kelen, MD, L. M. Sauer, BA, and T. Kirsch, MD, MPH. “Changes Needed in the Care for Sheltered Persons: A Multistate Analysis from Hurricane Katrina”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 4, no. 2, Mar. 2009, pp. 101-6, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2009.0015.




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