Delgado A-Z: Rehabilitation Center

by: Hilton Guidry
The philosophy of the Delgado Center supports an unshakable belief in the useful and productive potential of the handicap.
From a brochure published upon the 1962 grand opening of the center

Isaac Delgado used his vast wealth to help the “rich and poor alike,” and in 1962, the Delgado Trades and Technical Institute took that philosophy a step further by creating a Vocational Rehabilitation Center for the disabled citizens of the New Orleans area. The program was very unique for its time in that it offered paramedical services in conjunction with vocational evaluation. People with disabilities were rehabilitated physically and mentally and trained in a vocation so they could once again become members of the workforce.

Students at the Rehab Center in 1962
Physical therapy for a disabled student
The College hired Henry Nebe as the first director of the rehabilitation center. Mr. Nebe was a Korean War veteran who was a rehab counselor for the State of Louisiana Vocational Rehabilitation Division before coming to Delgado. Dr. Marvin Thames was the president at the time and believed Mr. Nebe had the perfect background to run the program in the newly funded $300,000, 12,000-square-foot facility.

First director of the Rehab Center, Henry Nebe
Mr. Nebe implemented the “6-8 plan” which had six vocational programs that ran for an eight week period. During that time doctors and staff personnel would observe and evaluate individuals to see what kind of tasks they would be able to perform in the workplace. Some of the programs included woodworking, photography, business machines, home economics and small appliance repair. After the eight week period, many of the students in the program had progressed enough and were admitted to Delgado to continue their vocational training. Some even went on to four-year colleges, while others went straight into the workforce.
As the rehabilitation center continued to grow, in 1968 the College started a program for the deaf. It was one of the pioneering programs for vocational-technical colleges in the country. Interpreters, counselors and audiologists were on staff to assist and train the hearing impaired. Dr. Thames worked with the state and the federal government and was able to secure funding for dormitories on campus for the students in the program. Later in 1968, the program approached medical equipment companies to see if they could help fund and train people with prosthetics to build braces. After the evaluation period, many of the students in the program went on to work for brace manufacturers.

Student working on small appliance

Student learning home economics
With the help of federal/state funds and grants from various foundations, the center continued to thrive throughout the 70s and 80s. In 1985, it became one of only six facilities to receive five consecutive three-year certificates of accreditation for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). The center had served more clients than any other rehabilitation facility in the state and had helped more 11,000 disabled people since its opening in 1962.

By the late 80s, many of the people in Washington, D. C. and Baton Rouge who were big proponents of the Delgado Rehabilitation Center had either retired or passed away. Funding for the center started to slow down and eventually the State of Louisiana took over the program. It remained on campus for a few years and was run by Social Services until it moved to a new facility on Canal Street in New Orleans.

Although the rehabilitation center is no longer on campus, you can still find traces of its footprints. The building that once housed the center is now home to the College’s Allied Health Division. With Delgado’s nursing program expanding and needing space to grow, it seemed like a natural transition to utilize the space that once belonged to the center. 

After the closing of the Rehab Center, the Allied Health Division moved in

Mr. Nebe, who was the original director of the center, is still working at Delgado. He is an adjunct at the West Bank Campus. Mr. Nebe shared his experiences with Delgado’s 90th Anniversary video series; watch the video below for more info:

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