Caregivers and families in medical special needs shelters: An experience during Hurricane Rita


  • Jessie K. Patton-Levine, BS
  • Joshua R. Vest, MPH
  • Adolfo M. Valadez, MD



disaster planning, natural disasters, public health, evacuation, sheltering, mental health


Introduction: Local public health departments may assume responsibility for sheltering and provid-ing care for medically needy populations displaced by disasters. In addition, medical special needs shelters will inevitably house persons not requiring medical assistance. The presence of nonpatients may help or hinder shelter operations. This analysis examines the composition, demographics, and medical requirements of a population in a special needs shelter.
Methods: Frequencies and ratios were used to describe persons residing in a medical special needs shelter. All data were obtained from registration records from the city of Austin’s medical special needs shelter, established in response to Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Results: The medically needy accounted for 58.4 percent of the shelter population. For every 100 patients, the shelter housed 71.2 nonpatients. The most common nonpatients in the shelter were family caregivers (13.1 percent), followed by dependent chil-dren (8.0 percent). Most professional caregivers were associated with some type of group facility.
Conclusions: Sheltering a medically needy popu-lation means caring not only for patients but also for their accompanying caregivers, family, and depend-ents. Non–medically needy persons utilize shelter capacity and require different resources. Shelter staffing plans should not rely heavily on assistance from accompanying caregivers; instead, they should assume a substantial proportion of shelter capacity will be dedicated to non–medically needy persons.

Author Biographies

Jessie K. Patton-Levine, BS

AustiniTravis County Health and Human Services Department, Austin, Texas.

Joshua R. Vest, MPH

AustiniTravis County Health and Human Services Department, Austin, Texas.

Adolfo M. Valadez, MD

AustiniTravis County Health and Human Services Department, Austin, Texas.


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How to Cite

Patton-Levine, BS, J. K., J. R. Vest, MPH, and A. M. Valadez, MD. “Caregivers and Families in Medical Special Needs Shelters: An Experience During Hurricane Rita”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 2, no. 2, Mar. 2007, pp. 81-86, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2007.0015.