OakBend Medical Center Not Only Survives But Thrives During Hurricane Harvey

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Fort Bend County's Only Independent Non-Profit Community Hospital Never Closes During Hurricane Harvey

As the last remaining independent nonprofit hospital in the Greater Houston Area, we remain committed to this community and are devoted to being able to provide Fort Bend County with essential medical services and fulfill their healthcare needs, said Sue McCarty, VP/Administrator

Memorial Day 2016 brought the kind of floods that authorities said happens only once every 800 years. Almost 20% of the population of Fort Bend County was either asked or ordered to leave their homes. So, when Hurricane Harvey entered the Gulf and took a route that led it to the Texas Gulf Coast, people began to pay attention. As the skies began to darken and the weather forecasters predicted a catastrophic flood for Southeast Texas, hospitals in Fort Bend County began making preparations on whether or not to continue to serve its community during the hurricane. At that time, the Brazos River was now predicted to crest at 59 feet, at least 4 feet higher than the 2016 flood.

As the hurricane came ashore 160 miles southwest of Fort Bend County, several hospitals in the area began to close their doors due to potential flooding and others found it necessary to stop accepting new patients. The nearest hospitals accepting patients were 43 miles south or 20 miles northeast and the river was swelling quickly, approaching record levels. In a time that it would have been perfectly acceptable for the hospital to close its door to new patients, OakBend Medical Center, the last remaining independent nonprofit community hospital in the Greater Houston Area, took on the challenge of staying open to care for patients in need during Hurricane Harvey.

An alert was sent to staff putting in place protocol to shelter in place at the hospital. Staff stayed around the clock to make sure that the patients were covered and the emergency rooms were open and operational. When the waters began to rise and predictions regarding the overflow of the Brazos River and bayous showed that the Williams Way location might be compromised by water, OakBend Medical Center began safely and efficiently transferring all patients to its Jackson Street location. Even as conditions continued to worsen, the patients and staff were moved with no issues and in a matter of a few short hours. This meant that the labor and delivery department, which is usually housed at the Williams Way location, had to be “moved” to Jackson Street. A labor and delivery area was established in the day surgery area and before long patients in labor began to arrive.

Doctors and staff became stranded in their subdivisions or were either under voluntary or mandatory evacuation of their homes. Determined to make their way into the hospital, one of our vice presidents volunteered to bring them in by high water vehicles or by boat, if necessary, so they could shelter-in and take care of patients currently in the hospital or any that might arrive during the hurricane. Several doctors took their families to other cities so they would be safe and then returned to the hospital battling the torrential rains and the rapidly rising waters. Doctors and staff slept on cots, air mattresses and couches in the make-shift sleeping quarters at the hospital and, in their taking turns treating patients, sometimes sleeping only a couple of hours in between shifts. Obstetricians and staff delivered babies and assisted in the emergency room. While many of the doctors have specialties, they served wherever and whenever they were needed.

In less than 24 hours, the hospital set up telemedicine services to provide healthcare from a distance for issues that might arise where there was not a specialist in the hospital. For the doctors, if the hospital did not need their services for a while, they went to help the county’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) that was set up at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds and various other local shelters to help triage patients.

Shortly after the flood waters began to rise, First Colony Nursing Home transported 13 patients to OakBend Medical Center to get them out of harm’s way from the storm’s rising waters. The staff worked diligently to have those patients transported out of Fort Bend County to other locations that would be safe from the hurricane.

As a fully operational hospital, OakBend Medical Center’s Jackson Street location performed four emergency surgeries during the storm; including surgery for one appendectomy patient that had been turned away from two other hospitals because they were unable to do surgeries during the storm. According to Dr. Ed Uthman, Pathologist and OakBend Medical Center’s Laboratory Medical Director, “The hospital received two appendectomy patients (one a septuagenarian) both which had very sick, necrotic appendices and possibly could have died had surgery been delayed. I am crediting the OakBend team, which never let the hospital interrupt service throughout the disaster, with saving at least one life, possibly two lives during the hurricane.”

As the storm continued to rage outside, the hospital with its makeshift delivery room, delivered four babies including one by C-section.

The emergency room saw more than 450 patients during that time, some minor, some urgent, but the staff maintained the hospital’s no wait emergency room policy. Gurneys were set up to add additional space for patients and every person that entered the emergency room was shown to the treatment area immediately.

As the staff sheltered in place, many non-clinical staff members took on roles that did not fall under their job descriptions and pitched in to help. The credentialing department did laundry, nurses helped in different departments of the hospital and the housekeeping staff and facilities staff worked tirelessly to keep the hospital clean and in working order.

A provisional sleeping area was set up in the outpatient surgery area and the incident command team worked tirelessly to insure that the hospital had both medical supplies and food supplies to feed both the patients and staff. At times, calling vendors for an extra run of supplies.

“We are deeply appreciative of the sacrifices our employees have made during this time, especially the long hours they have spent away from their own homes and families caring for our patients around the clock,” stated Sue McCarty, VP/Administrator and Incident Commander of OakBend Medical Center. “We are thankful for the patients that remained with us during this chaotic time as we worked to give them the best care available. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Fort Bend County who donated blankets, toiletries, food and other essentials to the hospital staff while we operated under the emergency status. As the last remaining independent nonprofit hospital in the Greater Houston Area, we remain committed to this community and are devoted to being able to provide Fort Bend County with essential medical services and fulfill their healthcare needs.”

As the storm moved away from the area and when the flood waters crested, 22% of Fort Bend County had been flooded and 29 shelters had been operating. When the streets began to clear and the cleanup of the city, county and surrounding areas began, OakBend sent teams into the community to give tetanus shots to protect those that were exposed to the infested waters and rotting homes, and donated cleaning supplies to help with the process. Some of the doctors continued to go to the local shelters to help out.

There is still a lot of work that must be done in Fort Bend County, homes to be rebuilt, dislocated families that need to find a place to live, and much more. What Hurricane Harvey has taught OakBend Medical Center, a dwarf among the giants, is that as a dedicated team of healthcare professionals, we can accomplish amazing things.

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Linda Drummond
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