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Catholic Charities of New Orleans to Provide Shelter Counseling and Assessments under Agreement with State


BATON ROUGE, La., Oct. 4 -- Under an agreement with Louisiana’s Department of Social Services, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans is implementing a shelter counseling and assessment process. To assist DSS in developing personalized, tailored plans to provide transitional housing for evacuees, Catholic Charities’ teams of social workers and health professionals are assessing the psycho/social and health needs and providing crisis counseling for evacuees at area shelters.

At one location, the Catholic Charities team works at a shelter for the medically fragile. Most have seriously limited financial means and in their pre-Katrina lives relied on a network of family and friends to take them to the doctor, get groceries, etc. With the destruction of their support system, many of the people feel disoriented. They want to go back to the way it was before but understand that their previous support in all likelihood is gone forever.

For example, there is an elderly couple in a shelter who both suffer from Parkinson’s disease. In their home in the New Orleans area, they had a sitter to help them 12 hours a day. Now they live in a shelter with 240 other people, sleeping on a cot in a row of cots.

“It’s hard to comprehend the scope and depth of the disaster,” said Dr. Elmore Rigamer, medical director for Catholic Charities, who is heading up the shelter assessment teams. “It is devastating and all-encompassing. For instance, there is a 70 year-old man in one of the shelters who is caring for his 40 year-old nephew who has severe mental and physical disabilities as well as his nephew’s mother who is gravely ill with kidney disease.” Dr. Rigamer, a psychiatrist, previously served as Medical Director of the U.S. State Department and Foreign Service, providing psychiatric care and counseling services to American victims of terrorism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

“Their medical care and psycho-social needs are complex. In New Orleans, they had a support system. Their old paradigm of care is gone, but a new system needs to be reestablished. The medical system alone can’t provide the support they need,” said Dr. Rigamer. “Catholic Charities is committed to helping people navigate their way through the system and create new infrastructures for those in need. We are also working with residents in the new transitional settlements and communities.”

At another location, Catholic Charities is helping several seniors placed in trailers. The seniors lacked transportation, furnishings, on-the-ground medical care, and medication. Catholic Charities was able to contact the interfaith St. Mary Parish Outreach Group who “adopted” the seniors and assisted them with their living needs.

Catholic Charities also has recently been donated a van for six months to be used by its mobile medical team to provide emergency medical needs until the health system comes back in operation.


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