‘We have a heart for people’



By Pauline Arrillaga

NEW ORLEANS – The sign on the gate in front of the pretty blue house announced the good news to a neighborhood that has had little since Hurricane Katrina: “There’s a doctor in the house. Make your appointment NOW!”

Earl Davis paused to take in the words, then headed up the ramp and through the door – destined for his first doctor visit since returning to the city five months earlier.

The family practitioner who treated him as a boy, and then saw his own kids, left after the storm and isn’t coming back. Hundreds of other doctors have gone the same route.

Medical centers devastated by floodwaters remain closed, with the number of beds available to the sick cut in half.

Charity Hospital, which for generations provided care to the poor and uninsured, sits like a darkened tomb on a downtown street, plywood blocking the main entryway, window shades twisted and broken.

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But the blue house at the corner of St. Claude Avenue and Egania Street is open for business, dispensing free health care to anyone in need.

The Lower 9th Ward Health Clinic is its official name now.

“A medical home,” Patricia Berryhill calls the facility offering primary care.

Before Katrina, this was Berryhill’s own home. The living room where her kids congregated after school serves as a waiting area now, its walls painted a peaceful powder blue. The bedrooms are exam cubicles, the kitchen a file room and office.

Berryhill, a registered nurse, still spends almost every day at 5228 St. Claude, working as medical director of the clinic, lording over it as she once did her household.

Another registered nurse, Alice Craft-Kerney, runs the business side as the clinic’s executive director. She grew up in the Ninth Ward, and rode out Katrina in her brother’s house a mere three blocks away.

Kerney and Berryhill, who share a devout faith in God, believe they will find a way to sustain their endeavor.

“We are two different human beings, but we have the same vision,” Berryhill says. “We have a heart for people.”