Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2007-0067-3076, physical and mental health symptom assessment in New Orleans Police Department personnel 15 months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Police Department, New Orleans, Louisiana.
In December 2006, NIOSH received a health hazard evaluation request from NOPD management asking for assistance in evaluating the persistence of physical and mental health symptoms one year after Hurricane Katrina. NOPD management requested NIOSH assistance based on the findings from a previous NIOSH evaluation conducted in October 2005. On December 11-16, 2006, we distributed questionnaires to NOPD personnel. We received 808 questionnaires (a 68% response rate). Overall, upper respiratory symptoms were the most common symptoms reported (n=388, 48%). Of the mental health symptoms, 20% (n=158) of NOPD personnel reported symptoms of PTSD and 23% (n=176) reported symptoms of depression. The majority of NOPD personnel were satisfied with the following aspects of their work: work schedules, ability to make independent decisions, quality of supervision, communication with supervisor, and communication with coworkers. Only 24% (n=189), however, were satisfied with their work-related equipment. For the purpose of analysis and ease of identification for this report, three groups are defined. We define the group of NOPD personnel who completed the initial questionnaire in October 2005, 2 months after Hurricane Katrina as the "first survey group." All of the NOPD personnel who completed the questionnaire in December 2006, 15 months after Hurricane Katrina are defined as the "second survey group." Because we did not have personal identifiers on either questionnaire, we could not identify the specific participants who completed both questionnaires. Instead, we used a positive response to the question, "Did you complete the previous CDC / NIOSH survey administered in October 2005?" to define the third group, the "second survey subset." These participants completed both the first and second survey and allowed us to determine whether symptoms persisted in the NOPD personnel over the 15-month period. Comparing those who completed both surveys, there were no changes in upper respiratory symptoms (first survey group: 28% vs. second survey subset: 28%), but there was a slight increase in cough (21% vs. 25%), an increase in lower respiratory symptoms (9% vs. 19%), and an increase in gastrointestinal symptoms (7% vs. 14%). A slight increase in PTSD symptoms (19% vs. 21%) but slight reduction of depressive symptoms (26% vs. 23%), was documented in the second survey subset compared to the first survey group. The use of group meetings, individual counseling, and counseling referral changed little from the first survey group to the second survey subset. The use of family counseling increased from 2% to 6% from the first survey group to the second survey subset. None of these differences were tested for statistical significance. Among those who completed both surveys, 17% of the second survey subset reported seeing a healthcare provider for persistent upper respiratory symptoms. We found that upper respiratory, cough, lower respiratory, gastrointestinal, and skin rash symptoms were statistically significantly (p<0.01) related to symptoms of PTSD and depression. Comparing their activities prior to Hurricane Katrina to the time of the second survey, 15 months after the hurricane, most participants in the second survey subset reported they exercised less (55%), had less social interaction (51%), and slept less (53%), but reported "no change" in level of alcohol consumption (61%) and smoking (86%). Sixty-one percent of the second survey subset reported living with the same people they lived with prior to Hurricane Katrina and 41% of participants reported living in the same home that they lived in before Hurricane Katrina. We recommend that NOPD management continue to encourage personnel with physical or mental health symptoms to obtain care from a healthcare provider and expand services to include an employee assistance program. NOPD management should establish a joint employee-management committee to address both ongoing health and safety issues of the department and those specific to disaster response. In addition to the existing disaster preparedness plan, we recommend that additional health and safety issues be addressed as part of this plan. Lastly, NOPD management should consider providing preexposure and postexposure medical screening for NOPD personnel involved in disaster response as part of the disaster preparedness plan.
Region-6; Respiratory-system-disorders; Respiratory-irritants; Lung-irritants; Psychological-effects; Psychological-responses; Psychological-stress; Mental-health; Mental-illness; Gastrointestinal-system-disorders; Law-enforcement; Law-enforcement-workers; Police-officers; Emergency-responders;
Author Keywords: Police Protection; disaster protection; PTSD; depression; respiratory; gastrointestinal; occupational health; hurricane recovery efforts; persistent symptoms