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  • New Orleans, LA: Post-Katrina

    First of all, hi friends. I apologize for my long absence. There is a lot that has happened in between the last time I wrote and now which I hope to catch up on in future entries. There is something I need to write about though while it is still fresh in my memory.

    My family and I recently took a cruise through Norwegian Cruise Line. The port that we sailed out of was in New Orleans, LA. We flew into Louis Armstrong airport and the humidity took me back to my time in Philadelphia! Philly was still worse though πŸ˜… I was super excited to check out New Orleans because I have heard it is a fun city with lots of history. I also did a paper in graduate school on Hurricane Katrina and wanted to see in person what post-Katrina New Orleans was like.

    Pre-cruise, my family and I stayed at Hyatt Place Convention Center. One of the perks of being single and not married was having a king bed to myself 😍 I was able to experience just a taste of New Orleans jazz by going to Tommy G’s Coal-Fired Pizza where there was live music for my family to enjoy while we ordered (and devoured) pizza, pasta, and beignets. Can’t forget those πŸ€·πŸΌβ€β™€οΈ

    The morning we sailed, I did some walking around the port area we sailed out of. It was Easter so many of the shops (including my bougie coffee shops – DARN) were closed. I ordered Easter day brunch from True Food Kitchen which also has a Los Angeles location among others and walked about a mile with it back to the hotel.

    Our cruise was a week long and when we got back, Mom had booked us a ride from the port to our hotel which was a Homewood Suites this time. Our ride was through Bernard Transportation from a New Orleans local named Reuben and his friend Harold. Not only did my family get a ride to our hotel but we also got a full tour of New Orleans and specifically parts of the city that had been impacted by Hurricane Katrina. This tour is one of the only ones of its kind that goes underneath NOLA’s cleaned up exterior and reveals the destruction that ensued from Katrina and continues to impact NOLA’s long-term residents.

    Some of the things that really stuck with me from the tour:

    • The 9th ward. The attached article provides some information about the 9th ward PRE-Katrina and how post-Katrina looks entirely different in terms of the racial make-up and gentrification of neighborhoods.
    • Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the racial make-up of NOLA was 67% Black. As of 2020, it was 59% and it is still declining.
    • Increasing property taxes are continuing to push people out and prevented people who had generations of family in NOLA from returning to their homes.
    • Out-of-state buyers and the creation of AirBnBs have continued to increase the housing costs and taxes which have pushed generations of families in NOLA out of their homes due to unaffordability.
    • I saw a couple of homes that are still standing but that have “do not enter” signs and the X codes marked on them. The attached article is fascinating and discusses in detail what some of the X codes meant, but it was basically FEMA’s way of signaling how many alive and/or dead people and animals were in the house as well as possible biohazards.

    I also was able to see Bourbon street, a mausoleum, a (very) sobering plantation farm with attached slave quarters, some of the French quarters and the beautiful City Park. Despite Hurricane Katrina’s impact, NOLA remains a lively city with rich Southern history (in both good and bad ways).

    On one last positive note, I was able to experience a true NOLA Po’boy at Parasol’s which was a great suggestion from Reuben! I got the shrimp po’boy with sweet potato fries 🀀 After that I headed back to the airport. I really enjoyed talking with my Lyft drivers, both of whom were also born and raised in NOLA and survived Katrina.

    Before the tour I felt somewhat of a spiritual darkness surrounding the city. It felt haunted. After the tour I still feel that way. It also feels like my eyes have been opened. I was reminded of the devastating power of nature; the unpredictability of the world; the fact that racism and racial injustice are alive and well; and the efforts the government goes through to paint a pretty picture. It is just one example of cancel culture in the U.S., and it is sad.

    In many ways the tour has continued to haunt me and my thoughts. I think that is important though. I need to be haunted to remember. We all do. We need to remember the stories. We cannot forget about racial justice. We need to never forget the lives lost in the tragedy of Katrina and we need to not forget the devastation that was only made worse by the failings of the government’s response to it so we can do better. I also need to never forget why I am in this field…to keep the U.S., government, and its people/leaders (especially those of privilege and majority) accountable to hearing and empowering some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.

    I highly, highly recommend anyone going to NOLA take Reuben’s tour. To Reuben and Harold, thank you for continuing to tell these stories. It is people like you who will truly plant the seed of change in the soil of this country after the storm (no pun intended).

    More posts to come soon!


  • Travel Social Work 101

    Many people have asked me about my role as a travel social worker, what it means, how it works, etc. I figured I would do a post on the process of becoming a travel social worker and what it entails. Here are answers to some of the questions I have been asked:

    Q: HOW DO I GET STARTED?

    The way that I got started was first researching travel-based social work agencies. There are a few Facebook groups where recruiters will post assignments and there are a few websites that I went through. I started by looking at Wanderly and AMN Healthcare however when a traveler came to the hospital I was working at I learned from her of a few more places. The very next step is to reach out to a company and typically they will assign you to a recruiter. Your recruiter becomes your best friend through the waiting game of getting your first assignment. They are the ones who submit you for assignments to account managers for hospitals. They take your resume to the next level and their job is basically to sell you and your experience to the hospital, saying why you are so awesome!

    Q: HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO I NEED?

    It’s not ALWAYS the amount of time you have, but often times that will be a requirement. Many companies will require 1-2 years of medical social work experience in acute care (hospital). I personally had 1 year of acute care experience. Often times it is also based on what kind of experience you have. For example, my first assignment in North Dakota was looking for a dialysis social worker and I just so happened to have dialysis experience. Same with my second assignment, they wanted a trauma social worker and I have trauma experience.

    Q: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ASSIGNMENT?

    Honestly, it can take a while. I started looking a looong time before I actually got serious about leaving my previous job and way before I received my first offer. What I have noticed is that a lot of recruiters try to weed out who is serious about it and who is “just kinda looking”. One of the first questions I was asked by every recruiter is: Why do you want to travel? Let’s be real, everyone these days wants to travel whether it is for work or for leisure. However, how many people want to travel so badly (for work specifically) that they will leave everything in their life behind like I did to take that leap of faith? More so, how many people are able to realistically do it? For an actual answer, I had been looking for at least a year, however I did not have the experience I do now. After working at my first hospital in San Jose there were a lot more opportunities that I was eligible for than without that experience. On the other hand, my coworker at my current hospital who is also a traveler started without any medical experience BUT she had social work experience. Some hospitals will accept a traveler for having any kind of experience period. In other words usually new graduates are not the first pick.

    Q: WHAT IS THE PAY LIKE?

    I was shocked to find out how much of a difference there was for me personally. In San Jose I made about 1/3 of what I make now. HOWEVER, the pay package I chose might not be an option for people with other circumstances. Let me explain. Typically there are a few pay “packages” you can choose from. Most commonly I have seen:

    • Higher taxable hourly rate and lower non-taxable rate
    • Lower taxable hourly rate and higher non-taxable rate

    From those two choices, there are other options including method of transportation to get there and back; whether you want money for flights to go home during your assignment; whether your hospital includes a rental car or not; whether you choose your own housing. I personally chose the lower hourly rate and maxed out my non-taxable rates which include my housing stipend and per diem incidentals/meals.

    Here is an example using my first assignment:

    Hourly rate (taxed): $22 (seems REALLY low compared to my $40+ rate in CA right?) x 40/week = ~$880 gross per week = $3520/month
    Housing (non taxed): $95/day x 7 days per week = $665/week = $2660/month
    Per diems (non-taxed): $55/day = $385/week = $1540/month

    Obviously I get taxed on the gross amount I make which in this case is $880. HOWEVER. Housing and per diems are NON-TAXABLE meaning I was guaranteed $1050/week no matter what with no taxes taken out. With my hourly rate I usually took about $700 home with benefit payments taken out. Seeing as we get paid weekly, that is $1750/week pretty much guaranteed.

    Now, keep in mind another reason I get to pocket all of that is because I chose to do everything myself. I chose to find my OWN housing. I chose housing that was well within my budget so I got to pocket the rest. This came really handy when I was paying double rent in North Dakota and San Jose!! In addition to that, I chose to drive my own car. I received $1000 in my first paycheck just for that alone. For my current assignment, I get $1500 on my first and last check!

    Keep in mind, the pay package is easily more negotiable as you gain more experience and depending on the cost of living where you are on assignment. I get paid more in Philadelphia than in North Dakota.

    Q: HOW DO YOU FIND HOUSING?

    It is really about personal preference. If you choose for your company to choose your housing it is typically at corporate housing or a hotel. Since I always choose my own housing, there are a few things I look for: price, that it is well furnished, close in proximity to the hospital I am working at, flexibility with cancellation (in case something comes up), and definitely reviews. I personally use AirBnB because I really like “home-y” feeling places when I am traveling. There is just something really cool about staying in a new spot that is comfortable and your own space while also getting a feel for the vibe of the city. I like finding places with lots of natural light, somewhere I can picture myself feeling at home. Another resource is FurnishedFinders. One thing you always want to ask about on FurnishedFinders though: is there a deposit? AirBnB has a service fee, so that is another thing to watch.

    Q: DO YOU GET TO CHOOSE WHERE YOU GO?

    It depends. For my first assignment, I took the only offer I got because it was my first one and typically hospitals like to know you have some experience traveling. For my second assignment (after I had the first experience of traveling), I got 3 offers! I was offered one in Daytona Beach, FL; Oakland, CA; and Philadelphia. Y’all know which one I chose πŸ˜‰ They all had different pay packages and actually, Philly paid the LEAST but I knew it was a location I would want to explore on the East Coast, so I was willing to make that sacrifice. The more experience I get I have a feeling I will get more offers too.

    Q: WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS OF YOU AS A TRAVELER?

    They expect you to literally hit the ground running. Some places expect you to be up and running independently within a few days, others a week, others weeks. It depends on the hospital. I have gotten lucky and I have had patient managers and staff but it is not always the case. You are expected to work holidays (so if you want to take them off make sure you get them written into your contract!!!), weekends… typically the shifts that their staff want a break for. Remember, you are there to fill a need and are not permanent staff. There are pros and cons to that.

    Q: DO YOU MISS HOME?

    Of course! And I definitely get lonely at times, I won’t deny it. It is only natural. However FaceTime and Social Media exist and I am a born social butterfly that craves change so for me it is the perfect fit… it is a nice trade-off. I do go home at least once per assignment though to see family and my pup. The traveling life isn’t for everyone, but I have found that

    Q: WHAT QUALITIES MAKE A GOOD TRAVELER?

    Flexibility. Sense of humor. Sense of adventure. Going with the flow and liking it that way. Loves change. Gets bored easily and wants to cure it. Spontaneous. Social/outgoing. Good with people. Likes diversity and meeting people with different backgrounds. & the most obvious one… LOVES TO TRAVEL! 😎

    Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE STARTING THEIR FIRST CONTRACT?

    It moves FAST when you get your offer. I got my offer on a Friday and a week from that following Monday I was on my way driving to North Dakota. Breathe and just keep in communication with your recruiter. They are there to support you.

    Also… MAKE ABSOLUTE SURE your recruiter writes your time-off requests in the contract. Once your contract is signed there is not really the option to change your off dates.

    ~

    I hope this was helpful for some of you! Let me know what other questions you may have for a future entry!


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The sky is not completely dark at night. Were the sky absolutely dark, one would not be able to see the silhouette of an object against the sky.

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