Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Carmel on the Case: Hurricane Handicapped
The feds are investigating Broward County for its hurricane shelters after one local disabled man says he was left with no where to go in a storm. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.
WSVN -- South Florida always breathes a sigh of relief when we get through a hurricane season without a storm, but year after year, those confined to wheelchairs still worry what next year will bring.
Laura George: "He's new to his injury, he needs medical care. What is he supposed to do? Everybody kept telling us, 'We don't know, we don't know, we don't know.'"
Greg and Laura George started looking for a shelter during Ernesto in 2006.
Greg George: "Laura was pregnant with Charlotte, nine months. Because of how close she was the hospital wanted her at the hospital."
Greg was fresh out of the hospital after a motorcycle accident left him with a spinal chord injury. Hospitals wouldn't take him because he's not confined to a bed. He says he couldn't go to a shelter because they wouldn't assist him to the bathroom.
Greg George: "So there was literally no place for me to go."
So they stayed home and rode out the storm.
Laura George: "After giving birth to our daughter, I was ticked that I had to choose between -- during hurricane Ernesto -- between my unborn child and his life. No one should make that kind of choice."
So they invited county and state representatives to their home to explain their concerns. It didn't help.
Laura George: "Well, Broward County asked us to move."
That's right, a representative from the Health and Human Services Department asked if they would consider moving before this year's storm season.
Laura George: "If it wasn't so serious it would have been funny."
The agency is responsible for special needs shelters and its director admits the comment was inappropriate.
Marlene Wilson: "That's not something that we would normally do."
Marlene Wilson told us they have made some recent changes to their policies and now Greg George can get assistance at a special needs shelter, restrictions have been reduced.
Marlene Wilson: "People who do not have to be accompanied by a caregiver, who are incontinent."
She also says new rules do not require a caregiver to help Greg in and out of his wheelchair and, in Miami-Dade, special needs shelters will have medical staff to help people in and out of wheelchairs.
Liz Gutierrez: "If they have an advanced illness or have electrical medical needs, then that's when we turn to our hospitals and nursing homes."
But the Center For Independent Living, an advocacy organization for the disabled, says, local governments can and should do better.
Marc Dubin: "In my view, Broward and Miami-Dade County are not in compliance with federal civil rights law."
Marc Dubin believes plans for both counties violate the American with Disabilities Act because they do not provide all that they should, especially Broward County.
Marc Dubin: "This is a model of how not to do it. It's a model of how to fail."
The George's have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice who is already investigating Broward County. If Broward fails to meet the needs of our disabled citizens they could face hefty fines.
Carmel Cafiero: "The George family says if it's not resolved by storm season next year they plan to leave town, but not everybody can do that and while no one expects shelters to be fancy, they do need to meet the basic needs of all of our citizens."
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