The Terrible Two: Katrina and Rita: Cooperation across Agencies and the Private Sector Was the Watchword for the Urgent Evacuation of Eight Nonambulatory, Special-Needs People Living in a Louisiana Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded

Article excerpt

Announcing its arrival with 145-mph winds, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, submerging entire neighborhoods, swamping Mississippi's beachfront casinos and killing 1,193 people. Following the evacuation of New Orleans, more than 400,000 people eventually made their way to Texas.

Just weeks after Katrina's onslaught, Hurricane Rita slammed into the Texas and Louisiana coast, knocking out power to more than 1 million people. An estimated 2.8 million people fled the 500-mile stretch of the Louisiana-Texas coastline.

Managing the Crisis

As Texas rushed to help evacuees of Katrina and later Rita, cooperation and collaboration among federal, state, local nonprofits, and citizen volunteer groups became paramount. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) faced the challenge of helping some 275,000 evacuees from two states. The urgency of the situation was heightened by the short timeline and the fact that many of the evacuees had special needs.

The Governor's Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety, in coordination with other state agencies, set up a central State Operations Center and regional Disaster Recovery Centers to coordinate and deliver information to communities seeking help. During the initial crisis, all agencies were instructed to use this guiding principle about service eligibility for evacuees--when in doubt, provide the needed services.

Cooperation among state agencies was ongoing, but all the agencies worked closely together to ensure continuous health care for evacuees. The Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the lead agency for health-related issues, waived eligibility rules--which call for residency and income tests--for Katrina victims receiving maternal and child health care, family planning services, and breast and cervical cancer care.

The Texas Department of Transportation continues to give evacuees medical transportation service, including rides to medical appointments.

As Rita approached, DADS alerted 2,081 providers along the Texas coast to the storm and made sure that evacuation plans were current. DADS provided vacancy and capacity information for nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, intermediate-care facilities for people with mental retardation, and day activity health service facilities to the State Operations Center, and coordinated ambulance dispatch through its sister agency's Emergency Service Center. This ensured availability of services and support for people with special needs with the State Operations Center and the DSHS Emergency Center.

Meanwhile, all state agencies worked together to publish information on their web sites to help evacuees obtain resources and reconnect with loved ones from whom they had been separated.

Many Working Together With DADS

DADS is the state agency that provides mental retardation services and state school programs, oversight and regulation of nursing homes and community care facilities, community care programs for people with physical disabilities, as well as aging services and programs in local communities.

DADS staff worked closely with local contractors such as the Mental Retardation Authorities, Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) and volunteers to complete assessments, provide services in shelters and help people integrate into the community. …