Hurricane season has officially begun, and Hurricane Laura just made landfall in Texas and Louisiana as a category 4 storm, pummeling the southern coastline with high winds and heavy rain. Navigating a tropical storm is always a challenge, especially in the healthcare industry. A power outage, flooding, and structural damage could spell disaster for you and your patients.
It was all hands on deck for the Christus Southeast Texas Health System ER as the storm approached. The administrators asked nurses and staff to volunteer to come into work during the storm in case of emergency. Many providers stepped up to the plate, but that meant leaving their loved ones at home.
Learn what it’s like to prepare for a hurricane in the middle of a pandemic.
Beaumont Healthcare Workers Prepare for the Worst
As Hurricane Laura barreled toward the coast, the staff at the facility faced a difficult choice: Go home and be with your loved ones or come into work and protect your patients. For many staff members, it was an easy choice. Administrators of the facility say more nurses volunteered to come into work during the storm than what was necessary.
For Christus Southeast Texas Health System ER, it wasn’t just another storm. The facility flooded during Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, so the staff wasn’t taking any chances. This time they used sandbags and makeshift barriers to prevent the interior from flooding.
If the facility would be breached, nurses would have to relocate patients as quickly as possible, set up backup generators, and prepare for what they saw as the worst-case scenario.
To prepare for the storm, staff took the time to say goodbye to their loved ones. Many had to move their relatives to another location, leaving them with friends and neighbors while they went to work. In some cases, these conversations were heart-breaking.
Such was the case with Kristen Hoffpauir and her husband, both of whom work at the facility in Southeast Texas. They had to explain to their 3-year-old daughter why they had to leave her during the storm. As Hoffpauir recalls, “We had a talk. I said, ‘Mommy and Daddy are going to work.’ What that means is, mommy and daddy are gone for a few days, and you’re going to go with Sarah and the family and you’re going to have fun.”
Other nurses and providers have encountered similar situations. Some sent their families away as soon as they first heard word of the storm. Southern Texas has been ravaged by several storms in the past, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which flooded nearly all of Houston. Therefore, providers are on high alert.
Dr. Gary Mennie, the chief medical officer at The Medical Center of Southeast Texas, had his wife and children go to another state during the storm. He says he doesn’t want to have to worry about their safety while he’s trying to care for patients, but he also worries about losing his home.
Speaking with NBC News, he said, “Everybody that stays are the people who say, ‘I want to stay. I’m going to ride it out. We’re going to be here for the community. And that’s sort of in the blood of front-line workers. It’s not even an obligation, but you feel that duty. You’ve got to be there for the community.”
Checking In with Hospitals Throughout Southern Texas
The state of Texas has become a hotspot for the coronavirus in recent months, but the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has gone down over the last couple of weeks, a promising sign for the local healthcare infrastructure. Many facilities have been shuttling patients to Houston, which is expected to avoid the worst of the storm.
Texas health officials say local facilities have the capacity to care for those injured during the storm, but they urge everyone to practice social distancing and wear a face mask whenever possible. For those seeking shelter, they recommend going to hotels or motels instead of a communal space. Isolating those fleeing the storm can help reduce the spread of the virus.
Facilities are also stocking up on PPE, food, and fuel for generators. If major flooding were to occur, it may take supply and delivery trucks a few extra days to reach the hospital.
Our hearts go out to the brave men and women working on the front lines of the storm. Staying behind to help protect your community is another part of being an essential worker. No one is immune to natural disasters. We can learn from these stories as we prepare for all kinds of storms around the country.
The Red Cross is looking for donations to support the victims of Hurricane Laura. Visit their website to find out how you can help.