National Report Finds Disabled Left Behind in Emergency and Disaster Plans

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 12, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

National Report Finds Disabled Left Behind in Emergency and Disaster Plans

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 12
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — A new report indicates the disabled are left behind when it comes to national emergency and disaster plans, even though President George W. Bush called for better planning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Wednesday report from the National Council on Disability is sparking national outrage.

Four patients were alleged to have been killed via euthanasia in the wake of the storm, but two nurses both saw their charges dismissed when they agreed to testify before a grand jury against a physician.

Ultimately, the office of former Attorney General Charles Foti confirmed no charges would be filed against Dr. Anna Pou either when a grand jury refused to return any indictments against her.

The cases prompted more attention to the plight of the disabled in national disasters and emergencies.

It resulted in President Bush issuing an executive order urging federal and local governments, as well as private organizations, to do more to consider the disabled when making such preparations and plans.

But the new report, according to the Washington Times, finds most plans have no provisions for the disabled.

The 500-page report said disaster planners still fail to obtain input from disability groups and cited problems including a lack of service dogs, relocation in trailers and mobile homes, the effectiveness of various warning systems and different transportation needs.

The report is titled "Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People With Disabilities," and says a lack of disaster help for the disabled is a historic problem. It said plans for help for the disabled "have typically been limited to a few lines in an emergency plan, if they are mentioned at all."

"Although some improvement in this area is evident, catastrophic events such as Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires exposed the gaps that still exist in many emergency plans and preparedness efforts," the report said, according to the Times. "These events reinforce the need for additional action to protect the lives of people with disabilities against the destructive nature of disasters."

"’Disabilities’ were generally placed into one large category, without consideration for the unique needs associated with each type of disability. Emergency planners often decided what people with disabilities needed without consulting those people," the report added.

Jill Stanek, a pro-life nurse and blogger noted the coincidence of the timing of the report.

"In the midst of a national debate on healthcare rationing of the elderly, disabled, and informed comes this," she said.

She said the news highlighted the differences between Bush and his successor, President Barack Obama.

"The healthcare and emergency care issues are related in spotlighting a constituency Obamacare has been accused of targeting: the disabled," Stanek continued. "Conversely, how many of us would expect Obama to take it upon himself as President Bush did to issue an executive order protecting the disabled in the event of an emergency?"

Going back to Hurricane Katrina, National Public Radio, in February 2006, published papers from the investigation that indicated staff members had a discussion about long-term care patients on the seventh floor and what to do about them.
Three staff members told the attorney general that the plan was to leave no living patients behind and "a lethal dose would be administered" for patients deemed unable to be saved.

One doctor, Bryant King, later told CNN he overheard other conversations.

King refused to identify the people involved in the discussions and later said he never heard them talk about euthanasia, only "ending suffering." Yet the tenor of their discussion led him to believe they were planning to end the lives of patients they deemed beyond hope.

"It appeared they were proceeding with that plan," said Dr. King.

But, Dr. Pou had told Baton Rouge television station WBRZ that "There were some patients there who were critically ill who, regardless of the storm, had the orders of do not resuscitate. In other words, if they died, to allow them to die naturally, and to not use heroic methods to resuscitate them."

"We all did everything in our power to give the best treatment that we could to the patients in the hospital to make them comfortable," Pou said then.

Meanwhile, Angela McManus told AP that her 70 year-old mother was in the hospital at the time recovering from a blood infection and appeared in fine condition when relatives were told to leave the hospital. She died later that day.

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