VA’s VAntage Point blog has the latest information on hurricane impact to VA facilities and services. For those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, click here. For information on Hurricane Irma, click here. For the latest on VA’s response, read more here on VAntage Point.
Hurricane Harvey hovered over a large part of Texas. As the storm moved inland, it was slow, and quickly dowsed areas of the state, with record breaking rain fall. The city of Beaumont experienced much of the weather, flooding homes, businesses and breaking down critical infrastructure.
The Beaumont VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic, part of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, has been witness to much of the storm’s destruction. The clinic closed after power interruptions and then flooding. The hardship now makes the clinic unable to safely open for patient care—but that is inside. What is happening outside is an impressive orchestrated team, continuing their mission to see Veterans, and, in this rare circumstance, non-Veteran patients.
“We are seeing everybody,” said Rachel Peery, Emergency Room director from the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery VA Medical Center, in Jackson, Mississippi. “We are seeing women, pregnant mothers, and children, in addition to Veterans. At first, people had lots of rashes, and had been wading in water, and Veterans with wounds were infected. We had people in heart failure, others with low blood pressure; it has been a wide scope.”
The Jackson VA deployed its mobile medical unit (MMU), and several staff who volunteered for the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS). DEMPS is the VHA’s main deployment program for clinical and non-clinical staff to an emergency or disaster. DEMPS personnel currently operate MMUs in Beaumont, and in other parts of Texas. The teams are prepared, and travel any distance where is most needed.
“We saw about 60 patients yesterday, 44 today, and 47 the day before,” said Rajani Potu, acting medical director for the Beaumont CBOC. “The number for urgent care seems to be growing. We should receive two more MMUs next week, and we plan to operate until the clinic can be relocated. We are exploring a lot of options.”
For anyone arriving to the clinic, the amount of effort to provide health care is impressive. Generators providing power, people requiring medical assistance, water stacked on pallets, the heat of a Texas afternoon, and then, there is the cheerful voice from a VA provider—“How are you, what do you need?”
The use of modern medical technology is mobile. The Veterans of Beaumont, their families, and others, have these assets and skilled staff, as their own. It’s an uplifting scene as hard-hit Beaumont picks up and recovers.
“I think this is wonderful,” said Joseph Matte, a Vietnam, U.S. Army Veteran. The 74-year-old experience serious burns recently, following a burst from a fire, while he was burning discarded items from his destroyed home.
“I love the people who are working here, and the people from out of town…it’s amazing,” he said. “I appreciate the VA and I am 100 percent for the VA; if there is anything I can do for the VA, I will.”
“We have seen patients from adults to children,” said Emilio Lindo, a registered nurse who normally works in primary care, at the Jackson, Mississippi, VAMC. “When they were looking for DEMPS volunteers, I raised my hand. This is very humbling. I’m just glad I can help.”
“It is hard to believe you guys are this organized,” said Marshall Paulk, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran. “You guys are pulling this together. I’m sure the logistics are difficult. I got here, and had a little bit of a wait, but there’s a lot of people here. I saw the doctor, and was taken care of. The VA is Veteran lost his home and vehicle.)
The VA staff in Beaumont, and the additions from DEMPS plan to continue urgent care services, and meet routine needs. They make calls to patients with future appointments, and receive calls from Veterans who do not have the ability to travel—the phones are working.
Although, different medical teams have arrived to assist, they work together, even though they have never met. They have combined resources, and seem to speak a similar language, taking care of Veterans and providing quality health care to anyone who needs assistance. That’s what they do in Beaumont, and VA wide.
About the author: Shannon Arledge is a public affairs specialist with the Veterans Health Administration.