Coastal Health District Special Needs Registry

As the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita continue to put their lives back together, some of those hardest hit have been the sick and the elderly. For people in the Coastal Empire, it's a wake-up call to plan ahead, especially for residents with special needs.

We spoke with the Chatham County Health Department about a service to help those people prepare. It's called the special needs registry. It's a way to help people who have no other means to evacuate or get to a shelter.

Before Hurricane Katrina, about 100 to 150 residents were on that list. Now, those numbers have doubled.

If another hurricane like Katrina or Rita strikes, Joe Brown of Wilmington Island wants to make sure his family is ready. "We felt very anxious about it," he said. "We felt like we might be a victim, too."

Brown, who is legally blind, cares for his wife Lucy, who had a stroke over a year ago. Because of their health, evacuating is a problem. That's why he signed up for Chatham County's special needs registry.

"It eases my mind a good bit, a great deal, to know help is available," he said.

In the event of an emergency, the people at the Chatham Emergency Management Agency will make sure those on the special needs registry have a way to evacuate. While the list is a good idea for people like the Browns, the health department says the special needs registry is not for everyone.

"People who are able bodied don't need to be on the special needs registry," said the Chatham County Health Department's Ginger Heidel. "Or people who are so ill they need constant care. Those people don't need to be on the special needs registry because they need to go to a hospital."

But the registry can help people like the Browns, who may need more assistance than a regular shelter provides.

"These are people who are undergoing chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, or people who can't sleep on a traditional cot," said Heidel. "Someone who may need limited nursing supervision."

The Coastal Health District's special needs registry is for people--including chemotherapy patients, stroke victims, and dialysis patients--who require more care than a traditional shelter can provide.

In the event of an emergency, the Coastal Health District provides this registry to local emergency management agencies who will try to provide assistance. The registry is not for people living in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

For information and an application, call the Coastal Health District Office of Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness at (912) 303-1917.

Reported by: Liz Flynn,