St Anna's Medical Mission
St Anna's Medical Mission RV drives around deprived areas of New Orleans and offers free blood sugar and blood pressure testing to those who need it. In New Orleans there is a disparity between those who have healthcare insurance, and those who don't. Without the safety net of a free-at-the-point-of-need healthcare system like the NHS, many people rely upon voluntary services such as St Anna's to provide the most basic of check-ups.
The Medical Mission, attached to St Anna's Episcopal Church, was set up in 2005 in response to Hurricane Katrina and continues to provide medical assistance to the people of New Orleans to this day.
The bus travels to areas such as the St Bernard's Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward, where the aftermath of Katrina can still be felt. Many people left these areas during the storm and didn't return. Many died.
These pictures were taken in 2011, and there was still a sense of abandonment in these areas, though rebuilding and redevelopment was slowly happening. People sometimes just wanted a chat when they saw the blue bus, and lots of people still wanted to talk about the storm. Some people knocked on the door and asked for condoms; local prostitutes used the service well and always had a smile and a 'bless you, baby' for us. The sense of gratitude for the smallest gesture always surprised me, and I began to realise that the people using the services of St Anna's didn't expect anyone to take care of them. They hadn't grown up with a system like the NHS, so had no experience of 'from cradle to grave', it was more like 'from day to day' - just see how you get by.
Upon my return I went back to work in an NHS Hospital and saw things through new eyes. I wished I could have brought one of my patients back from New Orleans, and shown them what happens when someone is ill in England - they wouldn't believe me when I tried to tell them about 'free at the point of need'. As problematic and imperfect as the NHS is, the purity behind its philosophy remains one of the most noble and egalitarian, possibly more to those who don't have it than to those who do.
New Orleans is a culturally rich and diverse city. Despite the hardships it has suffered over the years, the strong pulse of music keeps the city's heart pumping. Second Lines are unique to New Orleans, and to be part of one is electrifying. Brass bands and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs parade through their neighbourhoods, gathering people as they go, entranced by the rhythm of the bass drum pounding through the veins and arteries of the city. Second Lines are part of the life blood of New Orleans. Long may her heart keep beating.
www.stannanola.org - St Anna's Medical Mission website.
WWOZ - Local New Orleans Radio, available to stream.
The video below shows Social Aid and Pleasure Club the Lady Buckjumpers 'Coming out the door' at the start of a Second Line. The Grammy Award winning New Orleans institution, the Rebirth Brass Band, are playing behind the Lady Buckjumpers as they step out.