A guest post by Capi Landreau, Director, Mobile Health Care for March of Dimes and former Director of Program Services for the Louisiana Chapter.
Today, we acknowledge the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a storm with devastating effects that left many without adequate care in so many ways. In the days immediately following landfall, March of Dimes volunteers and staff members were on the ground supporting families, mothers and infants.
We visited shelters in search of pregnant women and mothers in need, we convened community partners to see how we could work together in such a difficult time, we communicated with the national office advising them of the day to day needs and changes in the landscape from safety, to transportation to food shortages. Other staff traveled from New York to Louisiana to assist and slept on the floors of local staff member’s homes, in some cases having never met before.
The outpouring of support from our volunteers around the nation was incredible. Volunteers around the country gathered in groups and assembled care kits for new moms that were evacuated from hospitals. Each kit was personally assembled with comfort items, baby supplies and a handwritten note signed lovingly by a mom from another state — not a friend or family member, but a stranger who just wanted to provide comfort and care in a time when so many felt helpless.
The Louisiana March of Dimes office was literally taken over by donations and hurricane relief work. We had never done anything like that before but we also had never experienced an event like Hurricane Katrina. We distributed donated diapers and formula, we helped families with infants find shelter in places suitable for young families.
General shelters weren’t appropriate for small children running around and women’s shelters didn’t allow husbands. I remember well one family that had twin infants that couldn’t have been more than a month old. They were born prematurely and I remember our concern for their still fragile immune systems in a large shelter. We pooled contacts and several entities came together to support a family specific shelter. I will never forget the look on the mother’s face when we brought her to the shelter that was safe for her toddler to run around, safe for her preemie twins and also allowed her husband to remain with the family. It was only one family on that day, but it felt like we changed the world.
We have a very specific mission – moms and babies. A hospital or other agency would call and we would be tasked to brainstorm options, identify placement for women with infants and/or fill needs that no other agency was addressing. At that time there were no preparations for infants in a massive shelter where water wasn’t safe or abundant. We rallied the volunteers and arranged for single serve (no fridge for storage), ready to feed (no water), disposable (no place to sanitize) formula. We aided hundreds of infants and pregnant women and their families.
As weeks passed and recovery work continued, March of Dimes received a call directly from one of our longtime supporters in New Orleans, who expressed a clear need for “bricks and mortar.” Providers were ready but locations for provision of services were scarce due to the devastation and flooding throughout the area.
March of Dimes established The Hurricane Assistance Fund and raised over $5 million to support recovery efforts. The funding allowed for the design and purchase of four vehicles tailored specifically for provision of care of women and infants along with operational funding for several years.
In September of 2006, the first Mom & Baby Mobile Health Center was launched. The mobile health clinic was equipped to provide full prenatal care onsite without any need for land based support. It served moms and babies in New Orleans during the difficult years following the devastation incurred after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The mobile clinic relocated regularly in the years following launch as areas began to revive and residents returned to their homes. This allowed the health center to go where the women were in greatest need.
Our second program launched on the Mississippi gulf coast. Serving moms and babies was critical as providers returned to flooded clinics and buildings swept off their foundations by storm surge. The Mom & Baby Mobile Health Center partnered with K-mart, one of our long standing supporters, to provide access to care in their store parking lots. Two additional locations were launched in Louisiana, Lake Charles and a second program in New Orleans to meet the increasing need as residents returned to the city. Since the program was launched, Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers has provided over 35,000 care encounters to women and infants in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Like so many people living in or touched by Louisiana, I have many emotions today, but what I will focus on will be the incredible outpouring of love and support that we received from strangers all committed to a common cause – healthy moms and babies. I’ll verbalize once again the joy, pride and satisfaction that I feel each time I am reminded that I work for an organization that did what needed to be done in such an outstanding way with such amazing and selfless staff and volunteers. I’m so glad I have the privilege of working for March of Dimes for 11 years, the last 9 of which I’ve spent working with the Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers. They are a wonderful legacy of March of Dimes’ commitment to support Louisiana and Mississippi in their recovery after Hurricane Katrina.
Thank you, March of Dimes and thank you volunteers — YOU made a difference then and you continue to make a difference NOW. On behalf of Louisiana mothers and infants – we are forever grateful for your generosity and care.