St. Bernard man who relies on state services fears possible DHH cuts

Local man hopes state services he relies on after brain inflammation get needed funding

ST. BERNARD PARISH, LA (WVUE) - State budget cuts could hurt a St. Bernard man who took his Katrina recovery battle all the way to the White House.

Rockey Vaccarella needs special services after a serious brain inflammation.

"That one, right there and then this one is going to go right there on that second shelf," said Caroline Vaccarella as she gave her husband dishes to put away in a kitchen cabinet.

In the Vaccarella household, as much as possible it is team work.

"He's a wonderful helper around the house," she said.

But Rockey isn't quite the teammate he once was.

"Rockey has changed tremendously for the worse since he's been diagnosed with the encephalitis. The encephalitis damaged the short-term memory section of his brain," his wife said.

He became ill in 2010.

"I got bit by a mosquito doing the pond," Rockey said.

"He repeats certain things, you know, over and over because he forgets just that fast," said his wife.

His short-term memory was on display during the interview for this story. Five years earlier, Rockey was healthy, and a proven survivor.

"When Katrina hit, I was on my roof with my son," he said.

His brother captured the perilous sight on video after the floodwaters swamped St. Bernard Parish. Rockey would go on to make a historic trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a journey documented on film. It's something from years ago that he was able to recall.

"When the storm was over, I got the FEMA trailer, I said, 'I'm going tell George Bush what I thought happened about the storm,'" he said.

Now two state programs Rockey and his wife rely on are in peril because of the state budget crisis.

"I come here, get him up, dressed in the morning, breakfast, give him his medicine, make sure we get everything together. And I make sure he gets on the bus safely," said Keandra Junius, Rockey's personal care attendant, who works for Jessie's Touch PCA Services.

She works with Rockey through the Department of Health and Hospitals Personal Care Attendant Waiver Program for people who need in-home services. Arm-in-arm, she accompanies Rockey to the bus waiting to take him to Abundant Life Adult Day Healthcare in New Orleans East. That is also part of another DHH program that would be affected by budget cuts.

"The most important thing is the socialization and it also keeps them from being depressed," said Stephanie Joseph, program manager at Abundant Life.

She said several patients would be affected if the waiver program is not adequately funded.

"A lot of our clients would actually go into a nursing home facility," Joseph said.

Rockey's wife said it's a big relief to her to know that our husband has health healthy social engagement while she has is at work.

"It has lifted a big burden off my shoulders," she said, saying leaving her husband alone did not work. "Rockey would have wandered off miles away from home walking. We would come home and the stove would be on. It was just a nightmare."

As for Rockey, he said he would be disappointed if the state-funded programs he depends on are shuttered. Still, he counts on one day returning to the man he used to be.

"I do. I do, and my wife's keeping up. She's going to make sure I get there," he said.

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