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Sea Change

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a Palmer chiropractor in New Orleans faces a practice without patients

For New Orleans chiropractor Bob Newsom, D.C., the decision to evacuate his family before Hurricane Katrina reached his community was easy. “I had evacuated rather than sit here and play games with a deadly hurricane,” said Dr. Newsom, who has since returned to New Orleans.

From the safety of his parents’ home, 250 miles north of New Orleans, the 1975 Palmer Davenport graduate didn’t have to worry about his family’s personal safety. Instead, he was concerned about the livelihood of his practice back home.

The new New Orleans “As I became more keenly aware of the devastation and of the fact that life would never be the same,” said Dr. Newsom, “I started looking for alternatives and looking to see what was available in terms of other areas as far as a temporary practice was concerned.” While considering whether or not to move his practice, he struggled with where to move it to. “My attitude was, if I can’t make a living in metro New Orleans, I don’t think I’m going to do very well just across the way that is overrun with refugees,” said Dr. Newsom.

Returning to the Big Easy wasn’t easy When Dr. Newsom was allowed by the authorities to check on his home, fully three weeks after Hurricane Katrina had hit it, he saw that the structure’s ground floor had been damaged by more than a foot of flood water. Worse, without electricity to run fans, it didn’t have a chance to dry out. As Dr. Newsom put it, “What the hurricane didn’t get, the mold did.”

The three-day visit also gave him a chance to see his practice, located in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, only four blocks from the 17th Street Canal levee that ruptured, flooding the west side of greater New Orleans. Fortunately for Dr. Newsom, his practice was above sea level on the “dry side” of town. The majority of his patients, however, lived on the “wet side” of town, which was flooded when the city’s levee system broke. The effects of their evacuation became fully evident three weeks later, when Dr. Newsom re-opened his practice after being allowed to return to New Orleans. “We’ve been available every day for about six weeks and the total patient volume is almost enough for a good morning,” said Dr. Newsom.

Months after the Katrina-driven exodus from New Orleans, most of its residents, including most of Dr. Newsom’s patients, haven’t returned. “I’ve got patients scattered from California to New Jersey,” he said.

Staying in New Orleans while still staying in business For the last seven years, Dr. Newsom’s primary area of emphasis has been on neurology. He has also gained extensive experience in vestibular rehabilitation, which, as part of the patient’s chiropractic treatment, employs specific exercises to decrease dizziness, as well as increase balance function and general activity levels.

After Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Newsom attended a post-graduate class in Orlando, where he met Julie Bjornson, D.C., secretary of the American Chiropractor Association’s Council on Neurology, who mentioned a bill currently before the U.S. Congress called the Elder Fall Prevention Act. If that bill passes, it would expand and intensify programs with respect to research and related activities concerning elder falls. Studies show that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for both males and females over 75. “Since I already had a majority of the coursework that is necessary to be certified in vestibular rehabilitation, I thought, ‘Hey, this is perfect,’” said Dr. Newsom. With his unique qualifications, Dr. Newsom foresaw being able to provide fall prevention evaluations and vestibular rehabilitation to nursing homes throughout the New Orleans region, with his Metairie practice serving as a hub. He also saw this as a chance to stay in chiropractic without competing with other chiropractors for a drastically reduced patient base.

However, keeping his dream alive has been a struggle. Dr. Newsom has so far been unsuccessful in obtaining funding to purchase the equipment needed to perform fall evaluations. Plus, the 90-day grace period offered by utility, insurance, mortgage and credit card companies to people affected by Hurricane Katrina, will soon expire.

To make ends meet, Dr. Newsom is currently looking to join a practice more than an hour away from Metairie. “Taking any job available is mandated by the fact that we have only located 21 former patients who still live locally,” said Dr. Newsom.

Dr. Newsom believes it’s important in situations like his to see the opportunities available rather than focusing on the drawbacks. “The key thing is that every coin has two sides,” said Dr. Newsom. “You get to pick which side of the coin you look at.”

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