When natural disasters strike, ophthalmologists can play a critical role in recovery through disaster response plans that maintain and restore clinic and hospital operations and provide outreach to the community.
On Aug. 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm, causing billions in property damage, massive power outages, and 88 deaths. In our home town of Houston, 60 inches of rain fell over a period of less than a week, submerging 440 square miles—more than 30% of Harris County. Thousands of Houstonians were rescued by boat, helicopter, and emergency vehicles, and more than 35,000 evacuees sought refuge in more than 250 shelters across the city.
As road access to healthcare facilities was cut off, thousands of evacuees lost glasses and eye medications in the floodwaters, while others suffered eye injuries and disease.
Despites severe challenges, the Houston Methodist Hospital system maintained continuous operation at each of our eight hospitals, including our flagship 907-bed teaching hospital in the Texas Medical Center. Within four business days, the Houston Methodist Physician Organization was back online and delivered care to our typical daily census of 4,000 ambulatory patients. The surgery center was able to accept emergency eye cases from other flood-damaged sites, including an open globe contaminated with flood water, and removal of a radioactive plaque.
The Blanton Eye Institute at Houston Methodist Hospital also re-opened to treat emergent problems. Although more than 15% of the Houston Methodist workforce was affected by the storm through the loss of their home, car, or a family member, the employees, physicians, and staff of the hospital pulled together to get the hospital and clinics back in service.1
Five key success factors were identified by our hospital administration in disaster response planning:
1) Disaster infrastructure
2) Resilient culture,
3) Technological developments enabling constant communication,
4) Operational preparedness of staff, and
5) Care coordination.
These success factors are described as a checklist.1