Katrina Shut Down Charity Hospital But Led To More Primary Care

Five years ago, New Orleans attorney Ermence Parent was struggling to find out what was wrong with her leg. She was 58 years old, and her right leg hurt so much that she needed a cane. That was not only painful, but frustrating for a woman who routinely exercised and enjoyed it. Parent sought advice from several doctors and a chiropractor, but got no diagnosis.

Then she made an appointment at the newly renovated St. Thomas Community Health Center, a primary care clinic dedicated to providing quality care for people regardless of insurance status. Most patients, including Parent, are on Medicaid or Medicare. Some pay on a sliding scale. Parent saw internist Dr. Mary Abell, who is now medical director of the clinic.

Abell took a careful medical history, looked at Parent's X-rays and watched as she walked up and down the hallway

"'Baby, your hips are going,' " the doctor told Parent. The attorney had "bone-on-bone" arthritis. Without surgery, the doctor said, "'in about six months you're going to be in a wheelchair.' "

Instead, about a month later, Parent received her first hip replacement, and nine months later, her second.

Today, she's back to exercising, has lost weight and sleeps more soundly. "You know, changing those two hips just rejuvenated me; it gave me years back on my life," Parent says.

Today is a "different day," Abell says. In recent years, a network of renovated and newly built primary care health clinics has opened, which she and New Orleans residents hope will bring a new degree of stability to the health care that the city's low-income residents get.

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