On August 25, 2017, Americares emergency response team arrived in Texas just hours ahead of Hurricane Harvey. The Category 4 storm came ashore in Rockport, Texas, with 130 mph winds smashing everything in its path. After being downgraded to a tropical storm, Harvey continued to produce torrential rains, resulting in catastrophic flooding, particularly in the Houston area, with record rainfall of more than 50 inches in some communities. More days of unprecedented rains created a historic disaster, driving tens of thousands of people from their homes and leaving an epic path of death and destruction. Americares set three goals for our response to Hurricane Harvey, and our team continues to focus our work around them:
- restore health services for the most vulnerable survivors;
- expand health services, especially for stress and trauma;
- and prepare health facilities for future disasters.
Restore Health Services
Two years after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, Americares Houston team continues to help survivors recover, supporting more than 70 nonprofit organizations in Harvey-affected communities. Americares response and recovery efforts include shipments of medicine and medical supplies, facility repairs, mobile health care and more than $3.6 million in financial support for local organizations serving Harvey survivors. Americares-supported mobile health units have provided health services for more than 6,900 Harvey survivors in 14 counties, including medication and management of chronic disease. Watch the Video of a unit in action (click on the arrow). In remote Refugio, where Hurricane Harvey left the roof of the county’s only hospital damaged and leaking, Americares supported repairs, restoring health care for 7,000 county residents and a safe work environment for the 30 health workers who staff the facility.
“They got me back on my medicine for my diabetes. I’m able to work now. What you all did for the people of Texas during the hurricane was just awesome.”
Expand Health Services for Survivors
In Harvey-affected communities, nearly every resident experienced trauma and loss from the hurricane and floods. Health workers are survivors themselves, living with stress at home and at work. To support health workers and meet the health needs of communities, Americares has trained more than 2,000 health workers to manage their own stress and care for patients affected by the storm. Americares trained health workers, social service providers and emergency responders in storm-affected areas, expanding health care capacity and creating a more resilient health care community in Texas. More than 90 percent of participants surveyed reported the skills-building sessions were valuable and 87 percent demonstrated increased knowledge about mental health and coping skills. The training and workshops continue through 2019. “The training was very helpful for my staff. We were struggling with a lot of emotions…we had to be strong for the community.” – Charlotte Jackson, Executive Director, Just Do It Now
Stress and Trauma
In remote Wharton, Americares is supporting a local organization that offers yoga, art therapy and other group workshops and outreach to Hurricane Harvey survivors. The community is especially hard-hit-residents were still recovering from 2016 floods when Harvey brought more destruction and misery. Participants in the workshops learn about coping with trauma and loss and can be connected to mental health services, if needed. “After Harvey there really wasn’t anything in place to help survivors process their trauma-and Harvey was a very traumatizing flood for our community.” – Stephanie Konvicka, psychosocial team leader, Matagorda Episcopal Health Outreach Program In summer 2019, Americares launched a program for Hurricane Harvey survivors and other Texas residents who use medication to manage their mental health. Patients in the program receive text-message reminders when it’s time to take medicine, ensuring they don’t miss a single, critical dose.
Other Health Concerns
Americares is helping survivors prevent illness and combat health issues that can occur after natural disasters. Working with local health partners in communities hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey, Americares is training health workers as facilitators and providing the support needed to conduct community outreach and lead workshops on maintaining good health after disasters.
Prepare Health Facilities for Future Storms
To ensure health services continue to be available during emergencies, Americares has trained more than 200 health workers throughout Texas in disaster preparedness. Staff from clinics and social service agencies leave Americares preparedness workshops with customized disaster plans and tools that address continuity of operations, coordination and communication. The goal: Better health outcomes for survivors when the next disaster strikes. The workshops continue through 2019. “Americares disaster preparedness workshop helped us see what had gone well during Hurricane Harvey and what we could have done better, so more survivors could have accessed health care more quickly.” – Lara Hamilton, director, Christ Clinic, Katy, Texas
From the Beginning, Immediate Support for Local Health Centers
Within days of Hurricane Harvey, local health centers that serve low-income and uninsured patients asked Americares for medicine, supplies, logistical help and other support as they saw a surge of patients at the same time that their own staff was recovering from the storm. Some clinics opened their doors to all patients, dropping eligibility requirements and even fees to ensure that survivors had access to the health care they need. In Beaumont, Texas, where flooding in every direction cut off access from outside communities, Lauren Rahe, who runs the Ubi Caritas free clinic in the city, said Americares was the first organization to help. Relief teams delivered essential hygiene products and baby care supplies for patients left homeless-items patients could not afford to purchase with businesses closed and paychecks halted. The clinic’s community health workers went door-to-door delivering relief items from Americares to families. “You were the first people to respond to us and get supplies to the people in need,” Rahe told Americares. “Our patients had trouble making ends meet before the storm. Taking away a job for even a month puts them behind.” In the midst of disaster, survivors require medicine for acute and chronic conditions, and Americares provided a range, including asthma medicine, tetanus vaccine and, in the first week following Harvey’s deluge, enough insulin to provide a month’s supply for more than 1,000 diabetic patients in the disaster-affected area.
“Americares provides a benefit to the community under regular circumstances, but having that relationship with an organization that is an expert in disaster relief and is able to provide boots on the ground is of tremendous value. I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on that.”
Support for the Most Vulnerable
Before public transportation and other ride services had resumed in the Houston area, Americares provided transportation for dialysis patients to treatment centers-some patients had gone for a week without dialysis. Floods closed roads and shut down over 100 area dialysis centers, making routine visits impossible for many. “Thank God you all came out to get me and bring me to where I get dialysis,” says Beaumont, Texas, resident Melvin. ” They had to shut down everything here, the hospitals, everything. I have to get out to get dialysis and I’m blessed that you all are doing this for me. I really am.”
Our Hurricane Response Partners in Texas
Americares U.S Program partners with an extensive safety net clinic network in all 50 states and Puerto Rico that allows us to rapidly respond to disasters and build long-term programs in support of health system recovery and resilience. In addition, we reach out to and identify new partners during disasters to meet immediate community needs and establish sustainable relationships for strengthening health services.