Opinion polls have shown that many Americans feel the U.S. government’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina was ineffective at best, incompetent and even racist at worst. In the wake of the disaster, however, one federal agency that does seem to be making a well-coordinated effort to assist low-income minority populations affected by the hurricane is the Office of Minority Health (OMH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

On September 30, 2005, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced the awarding of more than $12 million in grants to support greater access to physical and behavioral health care services for minority individuals, families and children affected by the devastation of Katrina, including those who were displaced from the Gulf Coast area. The funds were awarded to a variety of organizations involved in health-related Katrina relief efforts, including minority health associations, state Offices of Minority Health, local churches and community organizations.

The National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will also play a major role in coordinating relief efforts. “The NCMHD Health Disparities Centers of Excellence [across the U.S.] have a strong cadre of institutions, including historically black colleges and universities, with a solid community outreach base,” says Dr. John Ruffin, NCMHD director. “Together, they bring the vast expertise needed to the arduous task of relief and reconstruction in health disparity communities devastated by Katrina.”

Some of the specific OMH grants awarded include:

• $5 million to the Health Disparities Centers of Excellence in the Gulf Coast region, to support relief activities such as culturally competent mental health services and bringing electronic health records to mobile units.

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• Approximately $4.8 million to state Offices of Minority Health, plus $599,940 in supplemental funding to the six state offices most directly impacted by Katrina (Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee).

• $300,000 to support a Katrina Relief Network formed by the National Black Nurses Association, the National Association of Black Social Workers and the Association of Black Psychiatrists.

• $225,000 to the National Urban League, to assist local affiliates with supporting ongoing relief efforts.

• $200,000 to the National Council of La Raza, to reduce cultural and linguistic barriers affecting Hispanic evacuees.
• $150,000 to the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum to perform similar services for Vietnamese evacuees


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