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Report: People With Psychiatric Disabilities Faced Illegal Discrimination After Hurricanes
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 14, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC--People with mental illnesses faced illegal and even deadly discrimination during evacuation, rescue, and relief phases after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Gulf Coast states last summer, the National Council on Disability said Friday.

In its report, entitled "The Needs of People with Psychiatric Disabilities During and After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Position Paper and Recommendations", the federal agency concluded that many people with mental illnesses were mistreated, inappropriately institutionalized and incarcerated, or died because the evacuations were mismanaged.

The agency blamed the fact that people with psychiatric disabilities were not included in disaster planning or the relief and recovery efforts, along with the fact that no individual or office was responsible or had the authority to coordinate disaster management efforts for people with mental illnesses. It also said that disaster plans were "shortsighted" and that relief and recovery services were stopped far too early.

The report outlined a number of violations of the rights of evacuees with psychiatric disabilities. Many were banished from shelters and forced to stay outside. Some were sent to nursing homes or state-run psychiatric institutions, "not because they required that level of care, but because there was nowhere else to go", or because they needed refills of medications that the shelters did not have. In Texas, some who had previously lived in the community were "evacuated" to state hospitals where they remained for many months after the storms were over.

While "special needs" shelters were made available, those tended to cater to the needs of people with physical disabilities and critical illnesses, not people with mental disabilities, it said.

NCD recommended that in the future people with psychiatric disabilities be involved in all phases of disaster planning; that there be a single office or official responsible and accountable for coordinating efforts to help people with disabilities during recovery and relief stages; that the transfer of people from group homes and psychiatric facilities be tracked and their family members be contacted; and that relief efforts continue for at least two years after the catastrophic event is over.

"In the months since the hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast, media coverage of the hurricane survivors has waned," wrote NCD chairperson Lex Frieden. "However, for hurricane survivors with psychiatric disabilities, the hurricanes' destruction resulted in 'trauma that didn't last 24 hours, then go away . . . It goes on and on.'"

Related reports:
"The Needs Of People With Psychiatric Disabilities During And After Hurricanes Katrina And Rita: Position Paper And Recommendations" (National Council on Disability)
"Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities In Emergency Planning" April 15, 2005 (National Council on Disability)
"People With Disabilities Among Hardest Hit By Hurricanes Katrina & Rita" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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