Refuge from the storm

Photo: The St. David’s Neonatal Transport team loads a helicopter with a specialized transport isolette to evacuate critically ill infants from Houston-area hospitals affected by Hurricane Harvey

A catastrophic storm brought floods, evacuees and vulnerable patients to Central Texas

On Friday, August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast. It brought not only devastation to the coastal communities, but also inland, with flooding and rain that seemed to never stop. Neighborhoods and entire towns were destroyed, and thousands were left without power.

While this lack of power and supplies would be difficult for anyone, imagine the panic felt by those who were hospitalized, especially the parents of NICU babies.

In the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey, St. David’s HealthCare mobilized. In addition to treating hundreds of evacuees who settled temporarily here in Austin, St. David’s HealthCare received roughly 20 patients directly from hospitals in hurricane-impacted areas. The St. David’s HealthCare team worked hand-in-hand with hospitals in the Gulf Coast region to help ensure uninterrupted, exceptional care at this critical time.

“We were focused on making sure we had enough food, water, medications, IV fluids, fuel to run the emergency generators and other supplies that we need in the normal course of patient care,” said Dr. Ken Mitchell, Chief Medical Officer of St. David’s HealthCare. Dr. Mitchell was a part of the logistical preparations for receiving evacuated patients, and he said the staff were more than willing to help.

“Our nurses and physicians were all anxious to pitch in and help out—they felt honored to be involved in the care of these evacuated patients. Seeing the wheels in motion and the resources that were mobilized locally by St. David’s HealthCare ... it was fascinating to be a part of,” said Mitchell.

The St. David’s Neonatal Transport Team also traveled to Houston to evacuate critically ill infants, who were transported to St. David’s Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for care.

Rhonda Reed, Director of NICU and Neonatal Transport at St. David’s Medical Center, personally oversaw the transfer of critically ill infants to St. David’s HealthCare hospitals.

“Every nurse and transport team member I called was willing to help, be on call, take an extra shift, whatever was needed to be done to help these infants and their families,” Reed said. NICU nurses and transport teams were on call for two weeks to help out. Patients brought to St. David’s included a 27-week preemie on significant respiratory support in need of a blood transfusion, whose hospital had recently run out of blood products. Once here, the families of the patients were given a room to stay in, meal vouchers, and comfort items such as snacks and toiletries.

Closer to home, Hurricane Harvey caused historic flooding along the Colorado River, impacting the rural communities surrounding Austin. St. David’s Foundation helped recovery efforts with disaster response grants totaling $500,000 to 15 organizations serving Bastrop, Fayette, Hays, Lee and Victoria counties. Funds assisted with shelter, food, clothing, temporary housing, medical assistance and counseling related to the trauma of the storm.

Though the majority of the Austin metro area was unharmed by Hurricane Harvey, everyone felt the impact it had on Texas. Central Texans jumped in to help in whatever manner they could, because it takes a community to help a community.