Medical special needs shelter

Advocate Photo by REBEKAH ALLEN — Nurse Gary Koller came in from Alaska to help with the medical special needs shelter in the LSU Field House. He visits Friday with Adrienne Hobgood, of Baton Rouge.

Rebekah Allen

Sammy Parrino was alone for about an hour in his house as the flood waters pooled around his feet. 

Parrino, 63, is paralyzed, and unable to walk because of an injury to his neck last year. 

It was dark and his children had left to bring his grandchildren to safety. They came back by boat to retrieve him. 

"I was by myself and the water was approaching. It was an eerie feeling," he said. "Was I scared? Yes indeed. I started praying like any normal person," Parrino said. 

Parrino is one of many people who ended up at the Medical Special Needs Shelter housed at LSU's Field House. It's one of the many shelters that has opened its doors over the past week to serve people displaced by what's being called the Great Flood of 2016. But this shelter offers care for people with chronic conditions. 

On top of losing their homes, and in several cases their families' homes too, these people are medically fragile, wheelchair bound and requiring continued medical attention and equipment. 

The shelter was opened on Sunday night by the Louisiana Department of Health and many student volunteers, including the LSU volleyball team, helped set up cots the first night. It was eventually turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

To date, the shelter has received about 230 patients. It still had 63 in its care as of Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rebekah Gee, LDH Secretary. 

At the medical shelter, familiar stories of escaping flood waters in the middle of the night were compounded by medical conditions that prevented people from being able walk, let alone swim.

Adrienne Hobgood, 38, who lives in the Millerville area, saw both her home and her mother's home flooded. Hobgood has cerebral palsy and she had to be lifted out of her home on a mattress and onto a boat as she clung to her pets. 

"It's not something I'd want to do again," she joked from a bed in the medical needs shelter. 

Many of these patients, who live at home with the help of a home health service, are reliant on medical equipment.

"For a lot of people, power outages were a big issue," said Dr. Kathleen Cassel, who was deployed to the medical shelter from her home in California. "They use oxygen concentrator machines or types of machines that help them breathe at night." 

Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, said she was in Baton Rouge during Hurricane Isaac to help set up another shelter. 

"During that time it was chaotic," she said. "With each disaster you can see how much better the state and community is prepared. Things look to be going very smoothly." 

She said roughly 200 people from HHS had come to Baton Rouge for medical support, including out-of-state doctors, nurses, medical technicians, psychologists and public health experts. 

Many of them are staying at McVoy Hall, a dormitory at LSU that was closed this semester for planned renovation. Once the flood waters struck, LSU opened the hall to house relief workers. 

Gary Koller, a nurse practitioner from Alaska working at the shelter, said he was heartened by the stories of rescue by locals. 

"We're hearing stories about how their community saved them, how they got them to safety," he said. "Many of these people can't walk, and that's why they're alive today, because of their community." 

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.