- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

D.C. health officials yesterday began providing care to hundreds of Hurricane Katrina victims arriving in the District, sending several to hospitals for ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes and an infected leg.

“A lot of them are older and infirm and don’t have their medications with them,” said Dr. Gregg A. Pane, director of the D.C. Department of Health.

Busloads of evacuees dropped off at the D.C. Armory yesterday saw doctors and nurses for the first time since before the hurricane. The District had set up screening stations at the armory staffed by the health department and local health organizations.

Many evacuees suffered from at least minor health problems, and 11 required hospital treatment within the first few hours of being dropped off.

“We’ve seen a lot of people with rashes, lost blood pressure medication, simple abrasions,” said Dr. Kimball Beck, one of about 20 workers from the District-based Unity Health Care Inc., which helped evacuees at the armory in its two mobile outreach vans.

Of the first 118 persons to arrive at the armory, about one-third also complained of diarrhea — indicative of a lack of hydration, according to Dr. Pane.

A pharmacy run by Unity within walking distance of the armory at the D.C. General Hospital urgent care clinic has been filling prescriptions for evacuees, Dr. Pane said.

“There were a number of adults with pre-existing conditions,” he said, citing high blood pressure, diabetes, substance abuse problems and HIV as examples.

Evacuees who need immunizations, especially children enrolling in local schools, will be given shots at the D.C. General urgent care clinic, officials said.

“If kids require hospitalization, we’ll take them,” said Peter Hartogs, spokesman for Children’s National Medical Center.

To pay for the treatment, local public health agencies are planning to relax Medicaid enrollment requirements.

“A simple declaration ‘I’m from Louisiana and I need help’ ought to do,” said Dr. Diane Matusak, director of community health for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Normally, enrollees in the federal-state health plan for the poor have to show proof of residency and income-tax documents.

However, Dr. Matusak said in most cases hurricane victims don’t have those documents. “The paperwork isn’t there, so the normal paperwork requirements we’re going to have to bypass for now,” she said.

Dr. Pane said the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, a city-funded health plan will allow hurricane victims to enroll for coverage if they do not qualify for Medicaid.

More than 300 people and 245 families have relocated to Maryland in the aftermath of the hurricane, according to state health officials. Hundreds of others have relocated to the District and Virginia, and more are expected.

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