Introduction: Identifying at-risk groups is a challenge in post-disaster psychosocial response. Geospatial techniques can support the design and deployment of targeted and tailored interventions. This study compared spatial patterns in the distribution of hospitalizations for substance abuse disorders and associated area-level predictors before and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Methods: We used hospital data from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for 2004 (pre-Katrina) and 2008 (post-Katrina). Data were assessed by using descriptive statistics, multivariable Poisson regression, and geospatial analysis. We assessed hospitalizations by US Census block group in relation to the presence of blighted properties (ie, buildings declared an imminent health threat, in danger of collapse, or a public nuisance), race of residents (white or nonwhite), presence of nondisplaced residents (measured by the number of households receiving mail in 2008), and depth of water levels.
Results: The hospitalization rate for substance abuse disorders was 7.13 per 1,000 population for 2004 and 9.65 per 1,000 for 2008. The concentration of hospitalizations shifted geographically from block groups exposed to floods (levee breaches) in 2004 to the center of the city in 2008. Post Katrina, predictors for hospitalizations were presence of blighted properties, nonwhite populations, and presence of nondisplaced residents. Distance from flooded areas (high water depth) and levee breaches was negatively associated with hospitalizations. Men were more likely than women to be hospitalized during both periods (78%, 2004; 63%, 2008), and the percentage of the hospitalized white population increased from 2004 (28.8%) to 2008 (44.9%).
Conclusion: Geographic patterns of hospitalizations for substance abuse disorders shifted in post-Katrina New Orleans from flood-exposed areas to less exposed areas in the center of the city; however, poverty was a main predictor for hospitalizations during both periods. Approaches used in this study are generalizable to other disaster areas and to other psychological vulnerabilities (eg, anxiety).