In Dallas, in Houston, and into the Future
October 23, 2017
As Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast, UT Southwestern physicians, students and volunteers mobilized to help.
By Kyser Lough
Population Health Scholar
University of Texas System
Doctoral Student in Journalism
UT Austin Moody College of Communication
As Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast, physicians, students and volunteers at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern) in Dallas were already mobilizing to care for the anticipated needs. The storm would eventually displace thousands of Texans, many of whom would require health care in one form or another. UT Southwestern found three ways to provide this care: in Dallas, in Houston, and in the future.
Dallas housed numerous shelters for evacuees from the coast, one of which was the mega-shelter located in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. This 5,000-bed capacity shelter housed more than 3,800 evacuees, and also was home to a medical care area staffed by more than 24 UT Southwestern physicians. The team included pediatricians, psychiatrists, infectious disease specialists, emergency medicine personnel, fellows, students and volunteers. Additionally, more than 200 UT Southwestern students volunteered more than 1,500 hours for general staffing duties at the shelter.
The medical care area consisted of more than 100 cots, two triage areas, a quarantine area, a lactation area, and storage for medical supplies. During the 23 days of continuous operation, approximately 2,500 patient visits were recorded. These visits were for everything from blood pressure checks to chronic disease management to help obtaining prescriptions left behind. A separate pediatric area provided care for children, and was decorated in bright colors and characters. Here, pediatric neonatologists also helped with neonatal patients who had evacuated, and pediatric nephrologists provided dialysis to displaced children.
In Houston, after operations returned to “normal,” more than 40 nurses from UT Southwestern clinics, Zale Lipshy University Hospital, and William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital helped UT MD Anderson Cancer Center deal with a surge of patients. The UT Southwestern delegation joined more than 60 others in providing external supplemental staff relief. During the storm, the UT MD Anderson ride-out team had stayed on-site to care for the 538 hospitalized and 15 emergency care patients. The center typically has more than 13,000 outpatient appointments in an average week, however, so many patients had to defer treatment until after return to normal operations. It was critical, therefore, to have as much staff as possible on-site to assist in the post-storm period. Many patients had missed chemotherapy appointments and were coming in from all over, some from up to nine hours away.
UT Southwestern recognized that care for displaced Texans goes far beyond the initial hurricane event, and so the school established continuing access to care via telemedicine. Through CirrusMD via Texas Docs Care, victims of Harvey are able to connect to a UT Southwestern clinician at no cost to discuss symptoms, prescriptions, and ways to get medical equipment that was lost in the storm. They can share images, video chat, or simply type a secure text message to the physician.
Whether at home in Dallas at the mega-shelter, close to the hurricane’s impact area in Houston, or in the future through telemedicine, UT Southwestern faculty, staff and students mobilized to provide relief assistance.