Journalism in the Public Interest

Louisiana Presses Campaign for BP to Fund Mental Health Services

After Louisiana appeals to the federal government, BP finally responds to the state’s request for mental health money. But it is still unclear whether the company will help.


Workers clean up oily globs that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 9 in Waveland, Miss. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

More than six weeks after Louisiana health officials warned of a looming mental health crisis in communities affected by the Gulf oil spill, BP has yet to provide an answer to the state’s repeated requests that the company fund emergency services. On July 9, the state pressed its case in a strongly worded letter urging U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to back Louisiana in its demands.

“Our Louisiana Spirit crisis counseling teams have already engaged and counseled more than 2,000 individuals and are reporting increases in anxiety, depression, stress, grief, excessive and earlier drinking and suicide ideation,” wrote Alan Levine, the Louisiana health secretary. “On May 28, we asked British Petroleum to fund mental health services to the affected region. As of writing this, I have not heard one word, not even a courtesy call acknowledging receipt of our request, from BP.”

Louisiana is requesting $10 million to support six more months of outreach by the Louisiana Spirit program, double the number of crisis counselors, and cover the costs of medication for 2,000 people. Levine’s letter last Friday called on Sebelius to speak out publicly and call on the company to fund these services.

Louisiana health department spokeswoman Lisa Faust said that following the letter’s release, BP made its first acknowledgment of the request, in a fax earlier this week. She said that officials from BP and Louisiana had a phone conversation on the subject this morning, but that she did not know details of the conversation or whether BP had expressed any willingness to provide funding.

We also called BP to ask whether it was planning to fund Louisiana’s request, but haven’t yet received a response.

As we’ve noted, Louisiana’s demands have significant implications for future disputes over BP’s liability in the spill. Much like claims for damages from bodily injury, mental health is not covered under the Oil Pollution Act, the 1990 federal law that holds oil companies liable for “removal costs and damages resulting from an incident.” BP’s response to the request could be seen as a precedent in a new area.

For mental health in particular, tort law has a narrow definition of liability. Louisiana would have to prove that mental health problems were a predictable outcome of any BP negligence in allowing the spill to occur, David Owen, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, has told us.

Faust, the health department spokeswoman, said that she was not aware of any plans to file a lawsuit to compel funding of mental health services.

“Our focus is on getting approval as quickly as possible, because we’ve had enough delay and waiting,” she said.

It is foremost that the mental well being of the citizens of Louisiana be addressed and funded first.

We should not diminish the mental health affect on all Americans. I know that I have suffered depression and overwhelming utter fillings of helplessness while the destruction has gone on and on.

I suffer a neurological disorder and this despair has worsened my ability to function more safely.

I am in no way asking for personal restitution however BP should be made to infuse monies in to the U.S. Treasury specifically for mental health.

This infusion of funds should be separate than other costs they are required to pay.

Frankly, the U.S. Government should seize all of BP’s assests.

It’s the very least bp should do for all of the Gulf States.

There seems to be a unified approach to mental illness, not only by BP but by the American psyche, ignoring the existence of this real health crisis. When Obama spoke of reforming health insurance, he did not even mention mental health, and neither has anyone else in American politics since Al Gore lost in 2000 and Tipper Gore was pushed out, too It is a national and now an international disgrace. Bravo to the State of Louisiana for speaking out on this unseen killer!

Question:  How can “they” tell us Gulf seafood is safe when the composition of the dispersant is a “trade secret” and will not be disclosed?  How can they test for what they (and we) don’t know?  Reminds me of Christy Todd Whiltman of the EPA announcing that the air in NYC was “safe to breathe” after 911.  Yeah.  Sure it was….

“Does the statement, “I WANT MY LIFE BACK!” ring a bell?...that is stress…caused by this disaster…They demoted him too, didn’t they. In this world Mental Disability needs a “Head’s Up..” (pun)  Remember Desperate people do desperate things. for their sake and yours, help us out.

Gerald Tauber

July 15, 2010, 3:36 p.m.

I can feel with you, its really a crisis situation in the US Gulf Staates, so the Oil Spilling destruct the Natural Ressoures in the Gulf and the life of many US Citicens, it the biggest desaster since the last two decades in US territorial.
What i not understand why theres so cool?

Mental Health issues after a major crisis, even an oil spill, is a no brainer. BP should already have this assistance in their disaster plan.  Oh, that’s right, BP did not plan for a disaster, at least not of this magnitude and longevity. I think BP is still too worried about sucking up the oil to secure profits!


This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Gulf Oil Spill

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf has had untold health, economic and environmental effects.

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