The grant will create a solar- and battery-powered microgrid at CrescentCare, enabling it to continue operating during power outages to provide health and wellness services to underserved populations.
NEW ORLEANS — In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida last August, 19 New Orleans residents died from excessive heat, lack of oxygen or carbon monoxide poisoning—deaths directly caused by the prolonged power outage. A major gift from California-based Direct Relief, a globally recognized humanitarian aid organization, seeks to prevent such tragic deaths from happening in the future.
Direct Relief is awarding $650,000 to Together New Orleans’ Community Lighthouse project to fund the construction of the first solar- and battery-powered resilience hub in the Gulf South at CrescentCare community health center, which provides health and wellness services to underserved populations in the City of New Orleans.
The grant is part of Direct Relief’s new Power for Health Initiative, which seeks to ensure that vulnerable nonprofit community health centers and charitable clinics in the U.S. stay powered and remain operational through increasingly common power outages resulting from natural disasters and electrical grid failures. The Community Lighthouse at CrescentCare will be the largest solar+battery system Direct Relief has funded outside of Puerto Rico.
“Crescent Care provides essential health and supportive services every day that people rely on, and those services become even more critical during emergencies that bring on new risks to people’s health,” said Thomas Tighe, president and CEO of Direct Relief, which has worked in all 50 U.S. states and100 countries, and has a longstanding relationship with CrescentCare dating back to Hurricane Katrina. “That’s why it’s a privilege for Direct Relief to help ensure that those services can be maintained when power is lost, which is happening more frequently. People in New Orleans know this better than anyone, and why the CrescentCare project on its own and as part of the Community Lighthouse initiative are so important and offer a powerful example of taking thoughtful action.”
New Orleans ranks among the top 10 cities in the U.S. for power outages from severe weather, which have doubled nationwide over the last 20 years, and the frequency and length of power failures are at their highest levels since reliability tracking began.
Following Hurricane Ida, nearly one million New Orleanians lost power; some residents remained in the dark more than one month later.
For community health centers like CrescentCare, the loss of power meant the lack of access to critical health services, including life-saving medicines, COVID shots, electronic health records and essential medical equipment. Establishing a Community Lighthouse at CrescentCare will go a long way toward alleviating such problems in the wake of future disasters.
“As a community health center, CrescentCare has worked through countless weather events, including Hurricanes Katrina and Ida. We intimately know the effects of storms on our healthcare systems, our staff, our clients, and our neighbors,” said CrescentCare CEO Noel Twibeck. “The support from Direct Relief shows a profound commitment to the health and wellbeing of our city. We are honored to be the first commercial space included in the Community Lighthouse Project and we look forward to further expanding the resilience of our services for our city.”
The Community Lighthouse Project is a new initiative of Together New Orleans that envisions the creation of a community-wide network of 85-100 resilience hubs across south Louisiana, each powered by commercial-scale solar systems with backup battery capacity, that will be able to assess need and provide assistance to surrounding neighborhoods during power outages. The initiative was conceived by TNO in the fall of 2021 after its leaders realized the need for a sustainable solution following the catastrophic power outages caused by Hurricane Ida.
When power outages occur, Community Lighthouses will be able to conduct needs assessments and provide for those needs by offering charging stations/small battery distribution, food preparation and distribution, cooling/heating stations, oxygen exchange/light medical equipment, and, in the case of CrescentCare, basic healthcare services.
With Tuesday’s announcement of Direct Relief’s grant and an earlier commitment of $1 million from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Together New Orleans is well on its way to raising the funds for the Community Lighthouse pilot phase of 10 locations.