CA CNA Katrina Volunteers

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mental Health Services

In addition to their medical problems, most of our patients are suffering/will be suffering post traumatic stress syndrome. I looked at a middle aged woman and asked if she was ok. She said no, " I have an 85 year old mother who is handicapped from a stroke and my baby sister still at our home in (some Parish not yet evacuated.) I cannot deal with FEMA payments or anything until I find my family.")

I had a patient who showed up with her 14 year old Grandson's medical file. She said that she brought her Grandson in for treatment to Mental Health Services the day before, but she did not receive one prescription. She said that her Grandson was in the Dome "out of control." I asked her how many people in her family; she said 8 total. I observed and told her that she was trying to take care of her family and not taking care of herself. She started crying loudly, saying "I cannot take it anymore." I put my arms around her waist and escorted her to mental health services.

There were patients brought into us the day after the FEMA debit card riot. One man in a wheelchair said he was 100% disabled and a Viet Nam Veteran. He was holding his left shoulder saying he could not move it. He said that the Houston Police Department threw him over a metal barrier, and tried to beat him up, complaining about racism. I can only say that the Police Dept. personnel I met were humane, caring people. Female officers were stationed in the "females only showers" area; courteous, friendly... but I do not have to deal with the skin color issue. As MLK says "it's the color of your soul" (Dave said this.)

On the day of the FEMA riot, all of the centers were in "lock down." No one could leave, no lunch arrived, no supplies.

This is what I understand about the FEMA checks to evacuees:
If one does not have an existing bank account with info on number, branch, etc. - then a check will be mailed to their post office box. FEMA opened a Post office box for everyone on the spot. I was told that checks would be delivered in 1-2 weeks to this po box. I also heard that "they" were placing 2000 families a day into housing. So where were the checks to be mailed when they leave? I was also told that there were banks located in the parking lot willing to open zero balance accounts for the evacuees - I tried to explain to Nicole, a new arrival from a shelter, that she should open a bank account with a local bank so she could get an automatic deposit prior to getting her FEMA check. With an existing account, her check would be automatically deposited withing 24-48 hours. She did not process this information. She was more worried about connecting with her family. I met Nicole in the Computer Center where she gave me seven names of family members, including her mother, 4 sisters and and two nephews. I found one sister who was living with a Pastor's family in Lousiana. She was so overjoyed she made both of us cry... More about Nicole later...

Connecting with family: this is the major concern of people residing here. I heard one elderly woman tell a worker that when she was lining up in buses at the Superdome, that they were putting men in separate buses from the women. And these buses went to different shelters in three states. (Do you get this picture?) One woman told me that she was waiting in line to get on a bus at the Superdome and thmilitary told her that the people in line needed to stay "in single file, if they did not - they would be shot." I am only reporting this comment as I heard it and do not verify any truth.

I sat in the Computer Center all day with volunteers doing a great job of connecting people with family members. The cowbell rang all day. (The tradition is that you have the family member ring the bell and all those present holler and clap their hands.) I was able to help about 4 people find family when I figured out the computer system in the afternoon. Everyone who came to me found a relative looking for them! It was such an emotional event. (And I came there to de-stress!)

At one point, Judi (a person I met on the airplane coming into Houston to volunteer in the computer centers) was in the process of getting placement for a 13 year old (Judi tell your own story later) She said the Continental Airlines had a table in the AstroDome and was offering free one way tickets to any evacuee. This young man had a sister in Connecticut; Judi was working with Social Service and Child Protective Agency to make it happen. I said "Judi, you are a social worker here!"
It is whatever it takes, just like nursing." :)

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