As survivors confront the historic scale of Hurricane Harvey's devastation, Americares emergency response team is expanding relief efforts wiith local partners. Americares has made more than a dozen shipments of medicine and supplies worth more than $2 million to 23 local organizations helping displaced people and vulnerable populations in Houston, Beaumont and other disaster-affected areas of east Texas. These include evacuation shelters in Houston, as well as health centers that serve the low-income uninsured, which Americares supports through its ongoing U.S. Program. Americares is providing assistance to safety net health centers to help them get back to full capacity. The team also has helped support health care access and mobile health services for people in urgent need of medical care. While meeting emergency health needs, the team continues to coordinate planning with partners for longer term recovery of health care services.
Photo: REUTERS/Rick Wilking
“Americares is focused on addressing the urgent medical needs of affected residents, helping meet the health needs of people displaced by disaster, and working to restore primary care services, particularly to vulnerable populations. Hundreds of thousands of people need assistance. We have our work cut out for us.”
In the midst of disaster, survivors require medicine for acute and chronic conditions, and Americares has provided a range, including asthma medicine, tetanus vaccine and, in the 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. Through the City of Houston Department of Health, Americares donated wheelchairs, walkers as well as medicine to the city’s mega-shelters, including the George R. Brown Convention Center, where more than 10,000 people sought refuge.
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.”
Beaumont, a city of 120,000 people, is also without safe water.
Local health centers that serve low-income and uninsured patients are asking Americares for medicine, supplies, logistical help and other support as they are seeing a surge of patients at the same time that their own staff is recovering from the floods. Some clinics are opening their doors to all patients, dropping eligibility requirements and even fees to ensure that survivors have access to the health care they need.
"We are preparing to take in an influx of patients who otherwise would not be eligible for our services," says Heidi W. Bunyan, the chief operations officer of San Jose Clinic in Houston, a partner in Americares ongoing U.S. Program since 2014. "We’re waiving all of our eligibility requirements for anyone who needs care. We’re also waiving our patient contributions so people who need care and don’t have access to funds or need those funds for other things don’t have to worry about paying for medical care.”
“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 emergency response 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.“
Americares deployed an emergency response team to Texas before the hurricane made landfall and the team remains in Texas, working out of Houston with federal, state and local organizations. More staff are being added as Americares expands its working network and develops plans with local organizations and free clinics to provide access to medicine, relief supplies and basic health care for people in crisis. As many as 40,000 people may have lost their homes; more than 30,000 people are in shelters, and some 450,000 are expected to seek federal assistance.
A Category 4 hurricane, Harvey made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas with winds of 130 miles per hour, bringing massive destruction to communities in its path. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas expanded a disaster declaration to include 50 counties, and 30 of those counties have been declared federal disaster areas. At least 57 deaths have been reported along with many injuries and tens ot thousands driven from their homes as more than 50 inches of rain caused catastrophic flooding, particularly in the Houston area. The storm's slow path and record rainfall devastated many communities, making a second landfall in Louisiana where five parishes have been declared disaster areas.
The storm is the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961's Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record. The recovery is expected to be long and difficult as thousands of people return to homes and neighborhoods badly damaged or destroyed.
Americares has professional relief workers ready to respond to disasters at a moment’s notice and stocks emergency medicine and supplies in its warehouses in the U.S., Europe and India that can be delivered quickly in times of crisis. The organization responds to an average of 30 natural disasters and humanitarian crises worldwide each year, establishes long-term recovery projects and brings disaster preparedness programs to vulnerable communities. Americares has a long history of responding to severe storms in the United States including Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Donations to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund will support Americares response to the hurricane. Should Americares raise funds in excess of what's needed to respond to this particular crisis, the funds will be redirected to where the need is greatest.