Home Health care workers, flood means twice the turmoil

For home health care workers like Tonya Collins, record floodwaters meant fighting to keep water out of her home and rushing to the aid of a disabled client with flood problems of her own.

Collins had just spent a 10-hour work day with her client, Ariane R., when she learned her home was taking on water.

Her power disappeared from Friday until Monday.

Meanwhile, Collins' relief worker was grappling with seven feet of water at her place, and had to be rescued by firemen.

Finally, her client Rodrigue is living in her fourth shelter — two flooded — after being forced out of her apartment by rising water.

"She is going to need long-term housing," said Jacquelyn Blaney, director of the Independent Living Center, an in-home support agency.

Homecare workers assist the disabled and older adults.

Chores range from helping clients get to church, preparing meals and tending fulltime to young and old who need assistance.

"Most of the people we support would otherwise be in an institution," Blaney said.

Blaney's center has about 160 workers — average pay is just over $7,000 per year — to help 75 or so clients.

However, about 60 percent of the staff is unable to work because of the flood of 2016, and four of the eight managers lost homes.

"The other 60 percent either can't get out to work because their cars were destroyed, they are in a shelter or they have left town," Blaney said.

Others have to take up the slack, despite personal setbacks.

"I lost everything," said Carla Bradley, an 11-year veteran with three children and five grandchildren.

But even amid mind-numbing losses she had to scramble to ensure that her client Mathew, who is autistic, was safe in his apartment.

"I mean it's hard," Bradley said.

"But he (Mathew) needs the support," she said. "He is like a part of my family."

Angela Tyson returned to a mess last weekend.

"When I came back on Saturday water was everywhere," Tyson said.

However, she had to assist her client Rochelle after floodwaters forced her out of her apartment.

Landing at a shelter would have meant big problems.

"Rochelle is nonverbal," Tyson said. "Just imagine where she could have been."

Some homecare workers, like Arnitra Moore, is staying with her client amid dire circumstances.

"My house got water in it and I lost three kids to the shelter," Moore said.

Meanwhile, some clients need help finding a place to stay after being driven out of apartments by floodwaters.

"My place flooded, I lost everything," said Joquoin W.

Williams is bunking for now with another client of Lisa Broussard, a home health care worker who went through harrowing times herself.

"I was stranded for several days," Broussard said. "I live in Walker."

She returned to Baton Rouge on Sunday by National Guard helicopter.

"That was my only way to get out," Broussard said.

Another worker, Constance Guillory, said her home weathered the storm better than neighbors, some of whom are now staying with her.

"Its air mattresses," Guillory said with a laugh.

Blaney said floodwaters triggered round-the-clock efforts to track workers and the needs of clients.

"We did a lot of crisis management," she said.

The Independent Living Center is part of a network that operates in 31 parishes.

Bruce Blaney, a former top state official and director of the support network, said the workers should be called heroes.

A Homecare Heroes Relief Fund for donations has been set up at www.fundly.com/homecare-heroes-relief.

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