NEW ORLEANS — A new mobile health clinic is bringing a pediatrician to lower Plaquemines Parish, where doctors have been scarce for years and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has bitten deep into budgets while increasing stress.
The Children’s Health Fund is also providing a caseworker and a mental health counselor to work with children five days a week, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, head of CHF and of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.
For now, he said, the mobile clinic will drive down once a week, rotating among two locations in Port Sulphur and one each in Braithwaite and Boothville.
“As we raise more money for the program in Plaquemines, we’re going to expand that to five days a week. But we wanted to get it started,” he said.
The mobile clinic made its first visit Oct. 1, but Redlener, CHF board member Jane Pauley, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and Dr. Andy Garrett of the disaster center were to be in Port Sulphur for a grand opening Friday.
This parish of about 21,000 is heavily dependent on fishing and offshore work, both of which took major hits from the oil spill. Its only hospital closed in 1990, and its two health clinics total one to three doctors on duty at any given time.
None is a pediatrician, though each clinic has at least one family practice physician trained to treat people of all ages.
Two doctors work Monday to Friday at the Ochsner Health Services clinic in Belle Chasse, which opened in June and added a family practice doctor two weeks ago.
“There is a desperate need for service in lower Plaquemines Parish,” said Dr. Yvens G. Laborde, regional medical director for Ochsner.
The CHF pediatrician will fill a critical need, he said.
Plaquemines Medical Center, 45 minutes down Louisiana Highway 23 in Port Sulphur, is a 24-hour urgent care clinic that keeps one doctor on duty at a time. Boothville is another 35 minutes toward the Gulf. Braithwaite, although only a few miles northeast of Belle Chasse, is on the other side of the Mississippi, requiring a ferry ride to get there.
Redlener worked with children in south Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and during the oil spill this summer. A survey of parents this summer found that one-third of the children in the hardest-hit areas had physical, mental or behavior problems because of the spill.
“Besides just putting out those reports, we wanted to do something that will bring actual services to the community,” he said. “It’s very complicated there, because health services especially for children were extremely limited before the oil spill.”
The mobile clinic will be based at Tulane University School of Medicine, which has worked with Children’s Health Fund since Hurricane Katrina to bring doctors to neighborhoods hit by the storms of 2005.
The case worker and mental health counselor will work at an office of the Plaquemines Community C.A.R.E. Center, a nonprofit agency with offices in Belle Chasse and Port Sulphur.