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January 25, 2006

US Health Policy in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Department of Health Policy, George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 2006;295(4):437-440. doi:10.1001/jama.295.4.437

In a season that experienced an onslaught of major hurricanes, Hurricane Katrina nonetheless stands apart as a seminal social event. Katrina did not merely lay waste to a geographic region; it also exposed every public policy failure essential to community and population health. Nicholas Lemann wrote that, “after the levees broke, we watched every single system associated with the life of a city fail: the electric grid, the water system, the sewer system, the transportation system, the telephone system, the police force, the fire department, the hospitals, even the system for disposing of corpses.”1 The US Department of Homeland Security reported that as of September 15, 2005, 90 000 square miles had been declared disaster areas, and over 122 000 persons were housed in shelters throughout the nation.2 Three months later, in December 2005, more than a million people are still reported to be homeless.3

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