Posted on Sat, Dec. 10, 2005
From The Herald Sun (Biloxi, Mississippi)


New hope for Katrina survivors with severe disabilities



Media coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, especially in terms of the toll in human suffering, was massive and commendable. Even reports about the crisis among stranded dogs and cats was extensive and hopefully helpful in efforts to save as many as possible.

Yet with all this coverage, the story about the enormous stress and distress suffered by one segment of the population somehow went under the radar screen: the story of people with severe disabilities.

It is estimated that 1 million people with disabilities were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina alone. At least 2 percent, or 20,000, were people with the most significant disabilities.

A high percentage of this last number are those with spinal cord injuries. A great need exists to locate these people, and to provide them with assistance in the recovering of their independence.

Vast goodwill prompted philanthropic giving directed to the general relief and recovery needs of people and animals affected by Katrina. However, very little was directed toward meeting the additional needs of people with disabilities.

This is about to change with a gift of a half million dollars just given to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. The fund, created by philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert Klein and his wife Ita, has been named The Brian Joseph McCloskey Katrina Survivors with Disabilities Fund.

The gift is the NSCIA's largest single gift to-date, and will begin the process of helping individuals with spinal cord injuries - many who have lost everything - to recover to a stable existence once again.

Another portion of the fund will be used to identify the thousands more individuals with the most significant disabilities who have gone as yet undetected. These people need to be found and their special needs identified.

The goals of the McCloskey Fund:

 Provide direct assistance with down payments, deposits and, where other resources are not available, cash to rebuild homes.

 Provide cash to replace durable medical equipment not covered by private insurers, Medicaid or Medicare.

 Assist in furnishing homes, replacing items that will not be replaced through FEMA and other sources.

 Replace vehicles with wheelchair lifts and/or hand-controls for those who have lost them.

 Create advocacy programs to implement disability-specific funding to address the additional needs of hurricane survivors with disabilities and to maximize public policy initiatives to address the current disaster mitigation efforts and future events.

The McCloskey Fund will go to work right away in helping people like Selena, from Bayou La Batrie, Ala., a quadriplegic and 10 years post-spinal cord injury.

Salena's needs could not be met in a very overcrowded special-needs shelter, where she had to sleep in her wheelchair. She talked her way into a general-needs shelter, but this shelter was closed before they could find her housing.

Salena ended up in a bed-and-breakfast that did not have an accessible bathroom. As a result, she developed life-threatening medical problems and was hospitalized for a week. She recently transferred to a nursing home.

Without Mr. Klein's gift, she would likely stay in the nursing home indefinitely, at huge unnecessary cost to the system, because there is nowhere else to go. With this gift, however, NSCIA will assist her in obtaining accessible housing and replacing equipment so that she can resume her life and her career, and prevent further dangerous and costly medical complications.

There are at least 12 "Salenas" of whom we are currently aware from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Each has a story of survival against amazing odds and unique needs that require immediate assistance.

With the McCloskey Fund, help is on the way. It is our hope and prayer that with the focus now turned to the needs of people with disabilities who withstood the hurricane, but who desperately need the hand of compassionate support, more support will come.

Marcie Roth is CEO of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, based in Bethesda, Md. Contact the association through its Web site,