While the official death toll stands at 1,100 from Hurricane Katrina, health professionals in the regions most heavily affected by the 2005 disaster maintain that deaths are continuing to occur. In New Orleans, emergency wards of local hospitals and other medical facilities are reporting overcrowding and a lack of chronic care beds. Despite calls for aid, federal and state agencies have been slow to respond. Controvery remains over a recent study which noted only a slight increase in deaths in New Orleans over the first three months of 2006 with critics disputing the study's methodology and estimates of the current population of New Orleans. Deaths resulting from stress-related conditions are not being seen as Katrina-related despite the role of posttraumatic stress disorder in aggravating existing conditions.
Dr. Ronald Kessler, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and head of a group that has monitored 3,000 exiled Katrina survivors, has noted that "There are high rates of mental health problems among the survivors and previous research has found that mental disorders are predictors of earlier death rates," Kessler said. "So putting the two together in New Orleans is not surprising."