In Katrina’s Wake On Friday, Aug. 26, before Katrina veered west and her world turned, speech-language pathologist Tiffany Hebert and her colleagues at Children’s Hospital in uptown New Orleans talked about the weekend ahead-one had dinner plans, another was getting her nails done. The hurricane, apparently headed to Florida, “didn’t even make the ... Features
Features  |   September 01, 2005
In Katrina’s Wake
Author Notes
  • Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at
    Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at×
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   September 01, 2005
In Katrina’s Wake
The ASHA Leader, September 2005, Vol. 10, 1-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.10132005.1
The ASHA Leader, September 2005, Vol. 10, 1-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.10132005.1
On Friday, Aug. 26, before Katrina veered west and her world turned, speech-language pathologist Tiffany Hebert and her colleagues at Children’s Hospital in uptown New Orleans talked about the weekend ahead-one had dinner plans, another was getting her nails done.
The hurricane, apparently headed to Florida, “didn’t even make the lunchtime conversation,” she said. At the end of the shift, Hebert bid her young patients a cheerful adieu.
Janel Mumme, a school-based SLP with more than 22 years’ experience in Plaquemines Parish southeast of New Orleans and a veteran of Gulf storms, was mentally preparing for a hurricane-but not for the massive devastation that was to come.
“We assumed this would be like any other storm-stay and ride it out or leave for a couple of days. Come home patch the roof, clean up debris, and remove some downed trees. Clean out the fridge and freezer, then return to life as we knew it,” she said.
Across town on the campus of Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center, Natalee Allen had just completed the opening week of her AuD program. That evening, she and her classmates had their “white-coat ceremony” formally introducing their new AuD class to the university to the applause of family, friends and LSU’s audiology community.
“Nobody that night was talking about a hurricane,” she said. Her weekend plans focused on a cousin’s upstate wedding on Saturday with her family, with plenty of time to get back to class on Monday.
For these and thousands of other ASHA members in Gulf Coast communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, that world has vanished, and the future is as opaque as the murky toxins that still cover parts of the Big Easy.
“Like so many others, I had a good secure job, a home I was capable of paying for, and a good start on retirement savings. In two days that was all wiped out,” said Janel Mumme.
A Triple Disaster
Katrina was a triple disaster for ASHA members in the region-in both professions and in every setting-affecting clinical SLPs and audiologists in private practices, schools, and hospital, rehabilitation centers, clinics and other settings; students, faculty, researchers, and of course thousands of clients, patients and school children with communication disorders. First came the wrath of the hurricane itself with its bulls eye near Biloxi-pulverizing homes and whole communities and releasing energy equivalent to 10-megaton nuclear bombs going off every 10 minutes as it tore through three states.
Next came the deadly deluge of New Orleans, as Lake Pontchartrain poured through broken levees like a giant pitcher tipping to drown one of America’s most beloved and vulnerable cities.
And finally came the greatest storm surge of all-of humanity fleeing both tragedies, an estimated 1 million Americans forced to leave their homes in the largest mass migration since the Civil War. Among them were perhaps 2,000 ASHA-certified SLPs and audiologists from storm-ravaged communities-the number is a guess at press time, based on blocked ZIP codes identified by postal authorities-and thousands more clients, patients and schoolchildren with communication disorders.
As the catastrophe unfolded, ASHA quickly mobilized. With floodwaters still rising in New Orleans, President Dolores Battle called all state associations, academic programs and Legislative Councilors in affected states to assess impact and needs. Staff contacted licensure boards in Texas, Florida, and other states to press for quick action and collect the latest information for displaced professionals.
“We’re all one family, and what affects any one of us affects us all,” Battle said, noting that members should check the ASHA Web site for up-to-date information regarding ASHA’s continued efforts to assist affected members.
With member’s cell phones inoperable during the frantic evacuations, ASHA raced to create a special ASHA Web page which was up and running by Friday, Sept. 1 with a member-to-member forum and information and links on higher education options, licensure boards, and state associations. Messages poured in-notices of job openings, academic placements, offers for housing, equipment and supplies-and messages of support and solidarity.
Many of the Web forum messages were offers of academic placements for students who suddenly had no classes to return to. The response of the academic community to displaced students was rapid and generous. Universities across the country are accepting and assimilating students into their programs to allow them to continue their studies with a minimum of additional disruption. Watch for more comprehensive coverage of the higher education issues raised by Katrina in an upcoming issue.
Displaced members also communicated to colleagues through ASHA’s electronic mailing lists for audiologists and for members of special interest divisions.
Hurricane winds and water leveled the Mississippi Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Gulfport, but the staff members are safe, although it appears they personally have lost everything. The temporary contact for MSHA is Rick Burke at 800-664-6742 or The Alabama Speech-Language-Hearing Association escaped damage and is functioning as usual.
Kerri Phillips, president of the Louisiana Speech-Language Hearing Association (LSHA), called ASHA’s Web forum a “lifeline” for LSHA to locate displaced colleagues when telephone communications were down. “Our webmaster lost her home. We had no way to update our own Web page. We deeply appreciate ASHA’s quick action,” she said.
Meanwhile, ASHA members forced to evacuate the storm-ravaged region are trying to absorb the psychic impact of the disaster, locate scattered family members, rebuild their professional lives, and support others in distress.
“We’re shell-shocked,” said Tiffany Hebert, who drove in gridlock Saturday afternoon for Jackson, MS, then Dallas, with her siblings, parents and friends. She did not realize the storm’s true impact on her home until Wednesday, when a CNN fly-by report showed the exact locations of levees’ collapse. Her home, in an older established neighborhood, stood on higher ground on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain and was largely spared by the hurricane’s winds. But then the 17 St. Canal levee broke three blocks from her home.
Through the ASHA forum-"my first stop,” she says-Hebert located a grad school friend and a former colleague in Houston, and drove to that city where, through her ASHA colleagues, she soon had housing and leads on at least part-time employment.
Hebert’s home near Lake Pontchartrain in Orleans Parish is inaccessible. The entire parish remains sealed. The rest of her family has scattered to Atlanta and inland Mississippi, but a week after the storm, the family was searching for her grandmother, an end-stage Alzheimer’s patient at a reputable nursing home in New Orleans.
“She has no verbal skills, and no one knew anything,” she said.
Despite offers she has seen posted on ASHA’s forum with jobs in distant cities and states, she said she will stay in Houston until more is known about the fate of New Orleans. “It may sound strange, but many of us who had to leave the city want to cling to this region,” she said.
One member left New Orleans-and came back. Janel Mumme and her husband, an operations manager at a water and sewage plant, evacuated on Saturday and then he was called back to work. After his company’s vehicles had floated away, she drove him back and they moved into the plant.
In messages posted to school-based colleagues on the Division 16 electronic mailing list-and then in e-mails to The ASHA Leader-Mumme described her living conditions a week after the storm.
“I am living in my husband’s nine-foot by nine-foot office” in the water and sewage treatment plant near Belle Chase in Plaquemines Parish, she wrote. “At night we put down two large pieces of foam with one sheet and our feather pillows. The military serves three meals a day and a local restaurant owner is offering dinners at his own expense for all parish workers.”
Impact on Schools
With the school year just beginning, Katrina left an estimated 330,000 public and private school students from the Gulf region without a school-and left many SLPs and audiologists, along with teachers, without jobs. School districts in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and other states are enrolling students in the largest resettlement effort in American education, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In Houston alone, more than 20,000 students are being enrolled, and schools along the Gulf Coast are facilitating registration by waiving the requirement for documentation normally needed for enrollment. Students with disabilities who have no documentation will be reassessed in 30 school days, and the district will work with parents to develop a new IEP.
“School districts and early intervention programs in Houston-and throughout Texas-will scoop up qualified SLPs. We’d be delighted to hear from them,” said Debbie Blaylock, director of special education for Harris County, TX, which includes the Houston metropolitan area.
Marian Polk, an SLP and coordinator of speech-language pathology services for the Houston Independent School District (HISD), also urged SLPs to contact the district’s human resources department, which can assist with housing needs. Since school clinicians must obtain a Texas license, she’s advising clinicians to call the licensure board, which she says has been “flooded with calls.”
As an administrator, Polk’s goal is to coordinate services with other providers, ensure all parents-including storm victims-receive the information they need about their child’s services, and to make sure each child that needs an IEP receives one.
SLPs and other school providers will be trained to identify psychological effects of trauma in displaced students, she said, and added that a professional mentoring program is in place for relocated clinicians.
“We have, for example, a cadre of about 20 SLPs who moved here from New Orleans and have been here for at least five years,” Polk said. “They’ll serve as lead clinicians who will mentor displaced clinicians from that area.”
What Next?
At press time in early September, members who now are far from home with their lives in chaos say they’re still in shock, and some express anger and frustration at the slow and ineffective emergency response.
“Agencies were posting phone numbers when the cell towers were down and none of our phones worked. The response at every level was a disgrace,” said Mumme.
Observed Hebert, “We’re still in a short-term panic mode. We want to return to our homes, and I want to return to my hospital. But we don’t know if we’ll even be able to approach our homes because of the toxic sludge, much less recover any belongings.”
But Hebert knows that some decisions can’t wait for a full emotional recovery. Can she find a hospital-based pediatric position with an adequate income and benefits? Will she be able to afford her own apartment? Should she take a part-time job to meet immediate needs or hold out for a better professional fit? And, most importantly, will she ever be able to return to New Orleans?
“I don’t know if I can go back, or if I want to,” she says. “It’s difficult. I’m all over the place, submitting applications everywhere and setting up interviews,” she said.
“Work is available in the schools, and part-time employment is available in private practice, but I have no experience in those areas. That wouldn’t be fair to the children and clients, and it would be an additional stress to take on a new part of the profession,” she says.
“New Orleans gave so many people joy and happiness, and it is very painful to see the city where I grew up and its people suffer so much.” And yet, she says, “we feel overwhelmingly blessed.”
On the day of our interview-her second day in Houston-she and her family were celebrating the best news they’d had since Katrina.
“They found my grandmother, and she’s in Texas! I’m thrilled. She doesn’t know me and can’t speak, but I can’t wait to see her.”
Dee Naquin Shafer, Susan Boswell and Ellen Uffen contributed to this article.
Tips on Licensure for Hurricane Victims

ASHA members who have lost their jobs as a result of Katrina are seeking information about license requirements in different parts of the country. Some states, including Florida and Texas, certify holders of ASHA’s Certificate of Clinical Competence as qualified for a license by endorsement without requiring additional documentation. Texas requires school-based clinicians to obtain a state license through the state department of health.

To ease ASHA members’ transition, verification of CCC status for members in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi is being provided within 48 business hours with a waiver of rush charges. Call the Action Center at 800-498-2071 or e-mail

The Texas Department of Health has made special accommodations to assist practitioners affected by the hurricane to obtain a license. The department of health services asks people to apply online if possible, or to fax their applications to Leonard Rivas at 512-834-6677 with a note on the cover sheet stating that you are a hurricane victim. Applicants will be asked for as much documentation as they have. The office also will accept walk-ins without appointments, and will follow up on proof of payment and other usual licensure documentation after the crisis ends.

Katrina’s Impact on Audiologists

Audiologists in all work settings were affected by the disaster. Private practice audiologists lost their offices, equipment and sound booths, their business investment and their client base. It is unclear how many audiology faculty have been displaced and what their options are. Hearing scientists lost valuable research; one researcher reportedly lost valuable laboratory animals that had been developed over several generations as subjects for research in the genetics of hearing loss.

Immediately after it became evident that Katrina had displaced thousands of people, audiologists began posting messages about how to help others on ASHA’s electronic audiology mailing list. The first order of business was donating funds. Maxine Young, a dually certified audiologist and SLP in Broomall, PA, started keeping track informally and reported that within five days, members of the ASHA e-mail forum had donated $12,000 to different organizations.

Richard Navarro, a Houston audiologist, donated and then went further in an offer: “Any audiologist in private practice that has lost everything, call me and I will donate whatever I can to help you get back on your feet. If you need a place to crash in Houston, let me know!”

Leigh Ann Norman ( a Shreveport audiologist and board member of LSHA, is collecting hearing aid batteries for storm victims and state agencies helping evacuees. In little more than a week, she had already mailed batteries to Mobile, AL; Kingwood, TX, Morgan City, LA, Baton Rouge and “even to evacuees in Minnesota,” she said in a posting to ASHA’s Katrina member forum. She is appealing to audiologists for “any batteries you can spare,” offering to get them to people who need them. “That way, they can use their funds for other essential items.”

AUDiTEC offered to replace printed materials and recordings that accompany its tests at a reduced cost. Company president William Carver said AUDiTEC would provide replacements at 50% off the retail cost for six months.

Other postings on the audiology mailing list and ASHA’s Katrina member forum came from those seeking and exchanging information about missing colleagues. To sign up for the audiology e-mail forum, send an e-mail to with your e-mail address and full name.

Living with Uncertainty

One New Orleans audiologist, Linda Pippin, evacuated on Saturday before the storm. “I leave every time they warn about hurricanes,” she said. The 28-year resident of New Orleans expected to be gone a few days. Now she is in Baton Rouge with her family, where she is seeking temporary residence in a city whose size has doubled in the last week and where real estate prices have gone sky-high. As the administrator of Children’s Special Health Services for the state’s department of health and hospitals, she feels lucky because she has a job. “I just don’t know where that job will be.”

Pippin is also unsure about the condition of her home near the University of New Orleans by Lake Pontchartrain, and of her office on the second floor of the Superdome. She added that she was sure audiology clinics in New Orleans sustained damage, but had not heard details.

The 7,000 children served by her department and their families are now dispersed through Louisiana and neighboring states. “People have been very generous. It would help if they could continue to serve families in need, and if they could donate services to children as well as adults.”

It’s difficult to think about long-term plans, Pippin said. “It’s hard to describe the tragedy when you’ve lost everything. I think a lot of people are going to end up leaving the state.” She mentioned an audiology colleague with a private practice, who told her that even if he could go back now, he would have no patients.

“What do you do when all your money is tied up in New Orleans?” she said. “Another thing that would help is if people would consider hiring someone who has been displaced by the hurricane.”

Natalee Allen, the AuD student mentioned above in this article that participated in her white-coat ceremony and then had no class to return to, was quickly accepted into the only other AuD program in the state, at Louisiana Tech in Ruston.

“It helped that I had applied to the school during the regular application process and been accepted,” she said. One of her LSU classmates, however, dropped out of the AuD program and decided to take another career path.

Allen feels fortunate, but she now faces a tough decision-she’s heard that LSU held a press conference in Baton Rouge announcing that AuD classes would resume in late September in that city, and that students might be housed on a cruise ship or in mobile homes.

“I love LSU but am not sure I’d feel safe alone on a cruise ship. There’s a curfew now in Baton Rouge, because so many people are there. My parents aren’t crazy about that idea, and I’m not either. So I’m still considering my options.”

Useful Resources

ASHA’s Katrina Information

ASHA’s gateway to a variety of resources including state contacts and certification assistance for affected members, disaster relief support, member-to-member exchange, and clearinghouse for higher education facilities available for students and faculty.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; the most current information for providers in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina including phone numbers for state medical assistance offices and contacts for CMS regional offices.

U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency; includes information on how to locate missing relatives, maps of flooded areas and closed roads, links on food and water safety, and other information.

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster; links to information about national groups providing disaster relief.

The American Institute of Philanthropy’s top-rated charities currently offering relief services to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The organization rates each charity based on the portion of its budget going to program services and its fundraising efficiency.

U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s tips for wise charitable giving.

The Louisiana Licensure Board lists available employment opportunities and will respond immediately to licensure boards in other states requesting verification of licensure status. Records will be faxed or mailed at no cost to licensee. For more information call 800-246-6050 or to Glenn Waguespack at

Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Comment Title

This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
September 2005
Volume 10, Issue 13