Day4FloodingAerials bf 1317.jpg (copy)

Aerials of severe weather flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish on Monday August 15, 2016. A National Guard vehicle turns west on Prescott Avenue off North Foster Drive. Looking south southeast.

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG

An estimated 40 percent of children and adults who survive disasters such as flooding experience symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to an organization called Resilient Baton Rouge.

But as recovery continues from the 2016 south Louisiana floods that left some survivors with lasting mental health impacts, a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will enable Baton Rouge area health care providers to boost services for impacted residents over the next year.

The grant, which was awarded in June, fits into a larger effort led by the foundation in partnership with the National Academy of Sciences aimed at building resilience in communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico prone to natural and industrial disasters.

Resilient Baton Rouge — a collaboration among the Community and Patient Partnered Research Network, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Louisiana Department of Health and Baton Rouge Health District — applied for the grant and will help oversee programs in the Baton Rouge area supported by the $800,000 in funding, said Resilient Baton Rouge Director Robin Keegan. 

"As recovery from the Great Flood of 2016 passes the one-year anniversary mark, it is evident that increased support for behavioral health services is critical," Keegan said.

"Rebuilding after a disaster is such a stressful process that most people feel some level of depression and anxiety," she said. "We want to make sure people experiencing that know that they have affordable services available — both for the rebuilding process now and to become stronger for future events."

Four providers in the Baton Rouge area — CareSouth Medical and Dental, RKM Primary Care Federally Qualified Health Center Network, EXCELth Inc. and Open Health Care Clinic — received a total of $300,000 in grant funds that will be split among them to hire more staff or expand their hours.

The providers all have locations in East Baton Rouge Parish except for RKM, which has offices in East Feliciana, Livingston and West Baton Rouge parishes. All are federally qualified health centers.

Resilient Baton Rouge also will provide training for mental health screening and support, using the remaining $500,000. Keegan said the grant lasts through June, but she hopes to see funding extended beyond that date. 

The new program could help replace a federally funded state Health Department program called Louisiana Spirit, which, until recently, provided counseling and other services to flood survivors. That ended last month when the funding ran out.

Priya Gandhi, a research associate with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the grant complements a larger $2.5 million research initiative underway that supports similar programs in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and across coastal southern Louisiana, overseen by Dr. Ben Springgate, LSU associate professor of clinical medicine and public health.

That initiative falls under an even larger collaboration between the National Academies of Sciences — which administers a Gulf Research Program — and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Grant recipients were announced in June and received a total of $10.8 million. According to a news release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the funding aims to enhance "the science and practice of resilience in coastal communities located in the Gulf of Mexico region."

Gandhi said data showing the impacts of the programs focused on building resilience across southern Louisiana and Alabama will be collected over the next couple of years and studied to determine program effectiveness, both for mental and physical health as well as other areas. The results ultimately will help researchers develop best practices for communities prone to natural disasters.

Gandhi said professionals recognize that finding out what works the best requires a long-term strategy and approach to understand the different factors that impact how resilient people are after a disaster.

"This is a great step toward understanding the science and practice of resilience and how the human dynamics really factor into that from an on the ground perspective in coastal communities," she said.

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.