Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Philadelphia event to assist hurricane evacuees with disabilities

Dear Colleagues:

This is just one of many stories that are emerging of the difficulties that people with disabilities have had to endure in Hurricane Katrina evacuation and relief.

My employer, the Institute on Disabilities, is holding a 1 day donation event on Saturday, September 24th, 2005. From 8:00 am to 3:00 we are collecting medical equipment in support of people in impaced region who have dire needs for equipment. Many people with disabilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia were evacuated from their residences without needed equipment.

Location: parking lot at the SE corner of Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Broad Street; the entrance is half a block east of the intersection - turn off of Cecil B. Moore Avenue and head south on Park Street - entrance to the lot is then on the right.

Anyone is welcome to drive up with their donations. We will offer easy drop off and receipts for donated assistive equipment, such as walkers, wheelchair and wheelchair parts (footrests, armrests, seat pads), canes, shower chairs, commode chairs, etc. We ask those making donations to remember we are looking for equipment in good condition, that they themselves wouldn't mind receiving.

Thanks in advance for getting out the word on this, and watch this space for more information.


-----Original Message-----
From: SDS Listserv
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 10:03 AM
Subject: [Atlanta Journal-Const.] Disabled evacuees languish

Disabled evacuees languish
Advocates: Help for special-needs victims lacking

By Patricia Guthrie
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dwayne Russ needs his electric wheelchair. Janelle Lytle needs her constant companion.

Both temporary residents at Roswell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, they face additional challenges that some local advocates say aren't being met for "special-needs" survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

They need wheelchairs, scooters and walkers that were destroyed or left behind. They need medication and their government disability checks. They need to know how they will ever live independently again.

At the same time, they're still tormented by the recent past. Many people just like them, they say, were left to die.

"It became self-preservation," says Russ, 44, who is paralyzed. He was among the last medically fragile residents rescued from New Orleans' floodwaters. "That's a sad thing. If you got your health and strength, you got out."

In metro Atlanta, 79 evacuees from Louisiana ended up at more than a dozen nursing and long-term care centers, said Edna Jackson with Georgia's Office of Aging. The majority are at the Roswell home because it had 50 beds open.

A few already have been reunited with family or friends, traveling with donated frequent-flier miles.

"The memories are very fresh and painful at this point," administrator Michelle Giesken said of the evacuees now at the Roswell home. "Many just don't understand the gravity of the situation. They've asked our social workers to cancel their doctor's appointment in New Orleans, things like that."

About 10 storm survivors were transferred from Louisiana mental-health care facilities to Georgia's mental health system, said Gwen Skinner, director of the Georgia Division for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases.

Hundreds more physically and mentally disabled and elderly evacuees who require supportive care are probably in Georgia, advocates and state officials say.

But there's little, if any, coordination of government services, or transportation, for them, said Mark Johnson, director of advocacy at the Shepherd Center, a specialty hospital and rehabilitation center in Midtown. He said the state needs to form an outreach team for disabled

"Wouldn't it make sense for some disability specialist to go to nursing homes instead of expecting people in wheelchairs who don't even know what city they're in, who don't know how to get accessible transportation, to find the Red Cross and other assistance?" Johnson said. "Haven't they been through enough?"

Many evacuees are dependent on Social Security disability checks and Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor and disabled. Some of the disabled who are veterans are getting help at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

Georgia's Department of Human Resources says numerous agencies are signing up evacuees for help at the one-stop "super service centers" for hurricane relief.

"Every social service agency is busy right now," Skinner said. The state also provides mental-health counselors to all shelters, she said.

However, Skinner added: "There is no single agency that is categorized or classified, that is serving people with special needs."

Regaining independence for the disabled and elderly who preferred, and were proud, to live alone is another challenge facing Atlanta and other cities who've accepted evacuees.

Russ had lived independently in a specially outfitted apartment and maneuvered around in an electric wheelchair. This week, he plans to join family members from New Orleans who are staying with relatives in Houston.

"If I have to learn my way around, I'll be disconnected from the support I'm used to getting. I'm concerned about that," Russ said.

He also worried about whether he would be eligible for Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency benefits if he leaves Georgia. He didn't know who to ask.

In the end, help came from Johnson, who drove Russ around in a wheelchair-accessible van to buy clothes and other items at Wal-Mart. He also connected Russ with an independent-living organization in Houston.

"Dwayne is just one person but he demonstrates there's lots of people out there in his same predicament who are not getting the help they need," Johnson said.

Lytle, 53, got tired of waiting for "official" help to arrive at the Roswell nursing home. She took matters into her own hands.

But it cost $80 in roundtrip taxi fare to get to the nearest Social Security Administration office last week. Suffering from the pain of bone cancer, Lytle waited in line in a wheelchair for eight hours, finally receiving her check.

The next day, Social Security showed up at the nursing home to deliver checks to remaining evacuees. Lytle said she would have waited had she known help would come to her.

Lytle's bigger concern is one facing other disabled and medically frail individuals. They're separated from human caregivers and animal companions.

She was forced to leave behind her beloved cat Mardi. The cat had been with Lytle since cancer struck 14 years ago.

"If Mardi dies, then I'm going to die," she said, looking at the two photos she saved of her cat.

Patricia Guthrie,

No comments: