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Instant Clinic Takes Aid to Evacuees

Sept. 17, 2005, 1:13AM

Medical center packs up, heads to a school turned into a shelter for for Katrina victims

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

As a nursing student in Oklahoma City 10 years ago, Angela Pokladnik was working in a hospital emergency room when survivors of the federal building bombing began pouring in.

She moved to Houston and was working in Memorial Hermann Hospital when the power went out during flooding caused by Tropical Storm Allison, requiring her to help relocate critical care patients in the dark.

So when Pokladnik got a call earlier this month to help set up an instant clinic at a northeast Houston shelter for Katrina evacuees, she took it in stride.

"I loaded up my Expedition with supplies and drove over," said Pokladnik, who works as a nurse administrator at El Centro de Corazon, an East End clinic.

The clinic now occupies the principal's office at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, a previously vacant school off East Mt. Houston that was converted into a shelter for more than 200 Katrina victims.

The clinic has been funded through St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities, which received a $350,000 donation from local businessman Charles Hurwitz in the days after the storm.

"He wanted to help the most needy, and he wanted to move quickly," St. Luke's spokeswoman Melinda Muse said of Hurwitz.

Another way to help

St. Luke's has mobile clinics, but the hospital decided to cooperate with El Centro and place a clinic in the shelter.

"It's better to send the medical center to the shelter," instead of forcing the evacuees to make their way to a clinic, said Patricia Gail Bray, head of St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities.

The medical facility at Thurgood Marshall has a makeshift exam bed, a desk with a computer and a bookshelf filled with basic supplies. A doctor, a nurse and a mental-health counselor work there with Pokladnik.

Variety of illnesses

The clinic has treated a number of patients with asthma and diabetes, including children. Earlier this week, there were eight pregnant women and 15 infants at the shelter.

"A lot of patients are coming who have lost their medication," Pokladnik said.

Some have viruses and others have basic gastrointestinal illnesses probably caused by stress, she said.

One woman had not seen a doctor in five years, she explained.

Both Pokladnik and the physician working there Thursday, Dr. J.K. Lawson, downplayed the difficulties they faced in scrambling to provide medical services on such short notice. Both say they saw worse problems during Tropical Storm Allison.

"This is not too different" from Allison, Lawson said.

"Except we don't have any patients on life support here," added Pokladnik.

Already clearing

The shelter already is starting to clear out. After reaching a high of more than 250 evacuees early this week, the population had dropped to 130 by Thursday as people found places to stay long-term.

With the evacuees dispersing around the city, St. Luke's and many other health institutions are discussing ways to line people up with clinics and reach them with their mobile clinics.

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