Louisiana editorial roundup

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Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Nov. 23

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on providing shelter and hope for the homeless in New Orleans:

The event was mostly symbolic, but having 40 civic leaders spend a November night in sleeping bags atop pieces of cardboard should have practical effects as well. The Nov. 15 Sleep Out — which included a City Council member, an ER doctor, a lawmaker, an appeals court judge, a bank president and the sheriff — raised more than $100,000 for Covenant House. But if those high-powered people act on what they experienced, it also ought to lead to better options for people who are living on city streets.

Covenant House provided shelter for more than 640 homeless teenagers and young adults over the past year, but there are thousands of other people who are sleeping in abandoned houses, in parks and on downtown streets.

A February count by Unity of Greater New Orleans found 4,903 homeless residents, which is a significant decrease from the 11,600 counted in 2007. It is still more than twice the 2,000 homeless residents in Orleans and Jefferson parishes pre-Katrina, though, and it is crucial to get more of them into permanent housing.

A joint effort by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal and state agencies has used rental vouchers and intensive social and medical services to cut the number of chronic homeless people here. That is an encouraging approach.

As the Sleep Out was ending recently, the city was moving 55 people who had been staying under the Pontchartrain Expressway to shelters. The number had been closer to 100 earlier in the fall, Unity officials said, but the nonprofit had found housing for some people who are disabled. Others had moved elsewhere in anticipation of the city's action.

New Orleans Mission, Ozanam Inn, the Salvation Army and Exodus House took in the people who were moved...

Unity, Covenant House and other nonprofit agencies are doing what they can: providing shelter, getting as many people as possible into permanent housing, checking on isolated homeless people spread across the city. But they need more resources, and they need more government partnerships like the HUD program.

If all 40 people who spent the night at Covenant House commit to bringing whatever power they have to bear on this problem, a great deal could be achieved. They will need the rest of us to help as well. ...

Online:

http://www.nola.com

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Nov. 24

The Courier, Houma, La., on preventive disaster measures:

Local people and businesses can count their blessings that Hurricane Isaac passed us by and left few scars.

But the state and federal governments have spent $365 million in 55 Louisiana parishes on disaster assistance since Isaac struck three months ago.

That is a lot of money, but it is nowhere near what it could have been.

Although Isaac remained over the Gulf of Mexico for days, it strengthened only slightly and delivered just a low-end Category 1 hurricane by the time it made landfall over Louisiana.

The storm had a huge impact, of course. ...

The enormity of the price tag compared to the relatively mild nature of this hurricane, can be an eye-popping number.

It is nothing, though, compared to the tens of billions of dollars that will likely be spent on the East Coast's recovery from Sandy, which delivered its own blow last month.

And it isn't even a shadow of what Isaac could have cost if it had developed a bit differently.

For instance, if it had gathered more strength over the Gulf or if it had brought more rain or if it had taken a different path, we could be spending the holidays tabulating our losses rather than counting our blessings.

That is natural. As with any storm, we can offer guesses about what would have happened if this or that had taken place.

The cost, though, is difficult to ignore.

Even this relatively weak storm will cost hundreds of millions of dollars in recovery money. And it could have been so much worse.

One passing storm is not going to deliver the message that our coast and its people desperately need help to gird against future disasters. But the money should make an impression.

We don't need levees and coastal restoration because they would be nice to have. We need these things to head off the loss of life and property that could come from future storms.

We need these things because we want to continue living and working here, and we cannot do that if we continue to grow increasingly vulnerable.

The argument is one we have made repeatedly but with only limited success.

If the right people one day begin listening, though, it would be so much nicer to watch these incredible sums of money going into preventive measures than being spent on recovery. ...

Online:

http://www.houmatoday.com

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Nov. 26

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., on electronic health records:

In the old days, a student with bad handwriting was told to become a doctor. In these days of computers and smartphones, how relevant is that old joke? Unfortunately, quite relevant, as paper records and a general lack of shareable medical information are thought by reformers to be a problem with American medicine.

This was demonstrated most vividly during the diaspora caused by the flooding of greater New Orleans after levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent evacuation of the Lake Charles area during Hurricane Rita later that dreadful summer of 2005.

Patients and doctors and pharmacies dispersed, Louisiana health officials under the leadership of Dr. Fred Cerise, then head of the Department of Health and Hospitals, improvised Internet sites and other responses to the crisis. Those events, and the looming crisis in medical costs for Medicare and Medicaid to federal and state government, not to mention rising premiums for private insurance, give added impetus to the need for change.

In light of the Katrina and Rita evacuations, it's appropriate that New Orleans takes the lead in sharing of electronic health records.

The Greater New Orleans Health Information Exchange includes 160 doctors at the LSU Interim Hospital and clinics including the Common Ground Health Clinic, the NO/AIDS Task Force and the Tulane Ruth Fertel Community Health Center. Together, they care for more than 250,000 patients. Other hospitals and clinics in New Orleans and across the state, including in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, are either participating in the project or working on getting linked into a similar statewide exchange.

The idea: reduce duplicate forms and tests, hospital readmissions and waits for specialist referrals. Patients' primary care physicians are automatically notified when a specialist or other doctor in the exchange treats them.

The idea of secure but accessible electronic medical records is one of the ways that reformers seek to deal with burgeoning health care costs. Among others, Gov. Bobby Jindal as a federal health care planner had promoted the idea, but it is a bipartisan enthusiasm.

It is important not to overstate the immediate cost savings, as errors and excessive tests or treatments are possible, even if the old issue of doctors' handwriting is avoided. But bringing medical facilities into the digital age is clearly a good idea, if only because the mobility of Americans — not to mention future evacuees in hurricanes or other disasters — means that patients may seek attention for medical problems when far from their homes.

Online:

http://www.theadvocate.com

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