From an employee of a New Orleans community clinic, via reader Doug:
I wanted to write to tell you how appreciative (though not surprised, of course) I was to see that your boss made a trip down to the Gulf to see the complete disaster that has unfolded here. We, and especially our partners in the New Orleans East Vietnamese Community, have been doing a lot of community work to try to gauge the public health needs of this affected population. It is a disaster, of course, and as the oil washes up on our shores the phrase “Katrina-like” no longer is a hyperbole. Yesterday we participated in a large community outreach forum (health screenings, BP claims, and the deeply, deeply insultingly named “vessels of opportunity” training) on the Westbank, just across the parish line in Jefferson Parish. This is a community of fisherman and small business owners (many of whom do not speak English) who are of course the most vulnerable to the effects of this colossal blunder. During town halls and conversations with patients who visited our health screenings the three themes that are most pronounced are 1) Intense anger and worry about livelihoods; 2) BP’s willful ignorance when it comes to recognizing the reality of working with seasonal workers, who earn a year’s living in 4-5 months of fishing ; 3) The need to STOP the spill already. Congressman Joseph Cao’s office coordinated the event and he was on hand after taking morning meetings with Salazar and Napolitano. Their office has their hearts in the right place and the focus is rightly on putting pressure on BP to stop the spill and trying to protect people in the LA-2. That said, it felt at moments as if Congressman Cao was brainstorming in the responses to constituent questions, as he (and everyone else) clearly has not received satisfactory responses from BP concerning how claims will be handled and how the extenuating circumstances that will of course come up will be navigated. As present as ever is the need to protect the rights of citizens who will undeniably be subjected to the undeserved discrimination that comes with either not speaking English and/or coming from a lower socio-economic class. On this point, the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding area are especially sensitive.
The last thing to share was the vibe from the Congressman’s office. I spoke with a senior staffer at the end of the day along with a few of my colleagues from Tulane Med. It was interesting to hear his more unfiltered remarks. Respecting the confines of that conversation, the theme that came though was an extreme dissatisfaction with the way this response has been managed by BP and their reactionary attitude as opposed to taking a progressive approach to the spill. It is clear to all on the ground that BP has massively failed to deploy the extent of their resources. You should have seen the pathetic performance by the BP claims representative during the town hall. He didn’t work for BP directly but rather for a firm (Eastco?) that is handling their claims. The guy could not have been more overmatched and spent the entirety of the conversation trying to get to the exit. Questions of green energy in Louisiana, the unthinkable ecological effects of dredging, and the true future of the Gulf’s economy (a post-oil economy?) are not yet the focus. The Congressman’s office, like the rest of us, remains very, very in the dark.