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BOSTON -- Beginning Jan. 10, Harvard Medical School, through a $1 million grant by the National Institute of Mental Health, will begin recruiting a statistically representative sample of 2,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina to serve in the Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group. Group members will provide personal health and needs assessment information to help inform public policy. One thousand members of the advisory group will be from the New Orleans area, while the other thousand will be from other affected regions. The recruitment will be national in scope, as many survivors are now in different parts of the country. Results from the first survey of the Advisory Group will be available at the end of February 2006 and will be updated every three months after that for two years.
"This initiative is a unique opportunity to help policy makers monitor the unmet needs of people whose lives were, and may continue to be, severely impacted by this unprecedented disaster," said Ronald Kessler, PhD, Harvard Medical School professor of health care policy and director of the Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group Initiative. "Following 9/11, policy makers have wanted to have just this kind of assessment tool to guide policy. This initiative is the result of much discussion and modeling on how to reach survivors of disasters, and is the first attempt to provide actionable information through an advisory group model."
"The process of assembling the Advisory Group will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 10, with phone calls made to a random sample of tens of thousands of phone numbers across the country," said Kessler. People who lived in counties or parishes eligible for individual assistance as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are considered eligible to participate in the Advisory Group.
The Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group will provide ongoing information to estimate the pace of recovery of the more than 2 million families whose lives were disrupted by Hurricane Katrina. Members will participate in telephone interviews every three months, covering a variety of questions about experiences during and after the hurricane, emotional reactions, opinions about the performance of government and private relief efforts, and practical suggestions about how these efforts could be improved. Over 100 interviewers will be administering the interviews over a course of 30 days, after which time it will take approximately two weeks to formulate data.
Each interview will include a recorded oral history with descriptions of each advisory group member's experiences during and after the hurricane. This will be used to create a permanent archive that can be used by historians, policy-makers, the press, and the public to understand the experiences of people who lived through Katrina. Participants will be asked about what they lost; where they are in the recovery process; what their access is to health care, both physical and mental; if they are getting treatment for medical conditions; and what suggestions they have to make the situation better. Identifying information from participants, including names, will be kept confidential.
This finely-tuned information-gathering tool used to track the experiences of Advisory Group members is being implemented for the first time and is based on lessons learned from past disasters, including the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Quarterly reports and oral history recordings will be posted on the initiative's publicly available web site, http://HurricaneKatrina.med.harvard.edu, as soon as they are available.
Dr. Farris Tuma, chief of the Traumatic Stress Research …