UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2006 / 20060502

Case Management: Solution for “The Least and the Lost”

NEW YORK, NY, April 28, 2006-Robert Sharp is a Hurricane Hunter pilot who loved "punching through" the eye wall of storms when he flew for an Air Force weather reconnaissance squadron.

Now, he told Disaster News Network last week, he faces new challenges of storms on the ground. Mr. Sharp is the east regional disaster relief coordinator for the Mississippi Annual Conference. His role, like that of colleagues across the region, is to set up a fair way to help people most in need.

"I am a firm believer in case management," he said. "It takes the least and the lost who would have slipped through the cracks." Case management is a system of care that helps a family map out a recovery plan. "That case manager becomes an advocate for the family," says Robert Sharp.

Considered best practice in long-term recovery, this family-by-family problem solving system is the centerpiece of UMCOR's response in the Gulf Coast, not only Mississippi, but also Louisiana, Alabama-West Florida, and Texas. Thousands of families in the Gulf Coast of the United States will benefit over the next three years.

The board of directors of the relief agency in early April approved $52.3 million to support extended rehabilitation, direct cash assistance, family-by-family problem solving, and ministries to evacuees in a seven-state area devastated last year by multiple hurricanes. Funding also went to recovery efforts in Central America.

More than 85% of the money approved is directly benefiting the most vulnerable survivors. There are two types of direct service. The first assists families with needs when all other resources are exhausted such as mortgage or rent, medical costs, replacement clothing, child and elder care, building supplies, and utility bills. The second kind of direct service to families covers the system of care they need to map their own recovery plans-the family-by-family problem solving that is so good for long-term recovery.

Case managers like Robert Sharp work directly with clients as skilled partners who help people in need gain access to services and funds that are available from many different organizations and federal, state or local government agencies.

"It works!" he says. Candess Everett and her three-year-old son Jonathan Henson emerged from a Jackson County, Miss., shelter with virtually nothing left. Hurricane Katrina's sweep through St. Martin, near Ocean Springs, had wrenched her small house off its slab. Jonathan uses a wheel chair, the result of spina bifida. Head Start, the federal government's early childhood development program, referred the family to the Mississippi Annual Conference. One of the case managers supervised by Robert Sharp took it from there.

An article in a Biloxi newspaper about the mother and son caught the eye of a sympathetic donor. A van materialized. Then an auto dealer in Pascagoula offered to bring the van to "like new" and install a donated lift. Now Ms. Everett can fit Jonathan's wheelchair into the van with ease. The case manager obtained a FEMA trailer for the family, and Habitat for Humanity is rebuilding her house.

The beauty of the United Methodist connection is that it allows various groups to be involved, says Robert Sharp. "I always wanted to be in ministry," says the former Hurricane Hunter. Now he hunts those hurricane survivors, like Candess Everett and Jonathan Henson, who may have slipped through the net.

Only a small portion of all the gifts received is used to cover administrative costs of UMCOR's implementing partners, the United Methodist annual conferences.

"The largest share of every annual conference's response is direct assistance, but not always building supplies," said Paul Dirdak, head of UMCOR. "Many clients have much more urgent needs for solving problems with mortgage holders, insurance adjusters, local tax authorities, all kinds of social and health services and other desperate survival needs."

UMCOR thanks all who have given so generously to Advance # 982523, Hurricanes 2005, that is enabling the rebuilding of shattered lives after last year's devastating hurricane season.