Monday, September 26

Nursing home residents sheltered in Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA - Several hundred Southwest Louisiana nursing home residents, staff and family members found safe harbor from Hurricane Rita at the Peabody Magnet High School in Alexandria. However the fractured infrastructure of Lake Charles is an especially serious complication for the elderly and those with serious medical conditions.
Among those at Peabody are nursing home residents from Lake Charles, DeQuincy, Sulphur and other towns and parishes in Southwest Louisiana.
The residents of the various nursing homes are provided mattresses and cots on the floor of the school gymnasium, while the staff and family members slept in the hall ways and in the upper level where the retractable seats are pushed in to make ample space for the evacuees.
Many of the the people coming to the shelter spent long hours Thursday night in bumper-to-bumper traffic on U.S. 165. Some spent 13 hours or more to make the normal hour and a half drive from Lake Charles to Alexandria.
Calcasieu and Allen parish school buses helped transport many of the elderly. Others were driven by their own relatives and staff members of the nursing homes, who are all staying together in the shelter.
Stacks of special needs nursing supplies were brought to the gymnasium and everyone has been fed three hot meals a day by the school cafeteria workers.
Doctors have kept an eye on the evacuees, most of whom have special medical needs and medications. The facility has been guarded by both the Alexandria Police Department and the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Department.
When the hurricane struck late Friday and Saturday, the shelter felt little impact inside. Remarkably, the electricity stayed on through Friday night and much of Saturday. When it did go off, conditions became warm and uncomfortable. However the rain subsided, and the doors were opened so the still potent breezes helped bring much needed relief with the air circulating throughout the building.
Electricity was brought back on and air conditioning for the special needs evacuees made it a relief for all.
The Louisiana National Guard from Camp Beauregard unloaded additional stockpiles of water and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) on Sunday. They also brought news that other evacuees were being moved into a separate gym area of the school, to relieve crowded conditions at another shelter.
Also Sunday, shelter officials learned that a nursing home in Mamou was in dire need of food and nursing supplies. Staff and family members pitched in to load the needed goods on a Calcasieu Parish school bus, and send it to the relief of those in urgent need in Evangeline Parish
While the Spartan conditions make for stressful living, the residents of the nursing
homes have received around-the-clock nursing care. Home team and visitors locker rooms were designated for dressing, shower and restrooms for both men and women.
The water shortage in Alexandria Monday brought about more concerns and challenges for the needs of the nursing home residents at the shelter.
As of Monday evening, some of the evacuees were preparing to return home to those parishes that have been reopened. But the uncertainties of the length of time Lake Charles will be without such critical services as electricity, water and sewerage, presents especially difficult challenges for the families of nursing home residents.
Unable to return to their own storm-damaged homes for possibly weeks, and with a critical shortage of nursing home beds throughout the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast, some Southwest Louisiana families now face the agonizing prospect of placing their loved ones in facilities far from familiar surroundings.
The complications of Hurricane Rita continue to multiply as storm displaced families regroup, and attempt to get on with their lives.
Mike Jones
Staff Writer

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