Julia Burden never truly understood the term “deer in the headlights” until she took over her late husband’s home health care business in 2003.
Burden, who had never run a business, was handed an operation that was not only burdened by debt, but by a lack of confidence that this small franchise of Interim HealthCare, which provides in-home health care for patients, could turn itself around. But she got past those fears, and two years later, after hiring several employees and advisers to assist her with the numbers side of the business, things began to improve.
“July and August of 2005 were our best months ever,” Burden said, adding that as of Aug. 29, 2005, they had grown the company’s patient base to a high of 425. “We all know what happened next — Katrina.”
Roughly 80% of New Orleans was flooded by the hurricane and more than 180,000 homes were destroyed, according to the Brookings Institute. Small businesses took a big hit too: 60% of New Orleans small businesses were physically ruined by Katrina, according to the Institute for Southern Studies.
Burden returned to her office on Sept. 8, 2005, to find her client roster had dropped from 425 patients to five. Some of her staff and most of her patients had fled to areas all over the country. When Burden finally returned to her water-damaged business, she underwent the task of actually locating those 425 patients.
“We had some of the best nurses and aides ever,” Burden said. “Even though many of them had lost everything and were living wherever they could, they were still seeing the patients as we located them.”
While recovery efforts and funding have been continually flowing into the city, small businesses have faced a triple whammy over the past five years: the Great Recession, multiple hurricanes and the recent BP oil spill have all made it difficult for owners to rebuild what they had pre-Katrina.
Small business owners are facing some of the same struggles as homeowners continue to face in the volatile New Orleans real estate market. Click here to read MainStreet's coverage of New Orleans' residents housing problems five years later.