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.
VA doctor: The wedding can wait
The wrath of devastation and confusion caused by Hurricane Harvey brought out the best in many people. Dr. Sarah Candler of the Houston VA Medical Center is one example.
Before Harvey, Sarah Candler, Primary Care Physician at the VA medical center and assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, had been planning her wedding day for September 3, 2017.
But Hurricane Harvey had other plans.
Candler volunteered to stay overnight at the VA hospital the evening Harvey made landfall, bracing for the storms impact.
“I think that anybody that goes into medicine does it because they like to take care of people,” said Candler. “Friday, I made the decision to sleep at the hospital. When somebody needs you right then and there and you’re the best qualified person to do it, I feel I signed up for that. I signed up to be there for people, so that was my priority.”
Once the storm hit, Candler continued to provide care to her Veteran patients and volunteered to stay another evening at the Medical Center. She worked tirelessly to fulfill her duties even spending more than 10 hours on the phone contacting her patients to check on them.
“We have a couple methods for contacting patients, so in addition to the mobile medical unit deployed on Saturday in Pearland, I spent Wednesday after the storm on the phone,” said Candler. “I spent about 10 hours on the phone and emailing with secure messages. I started with the ones who that I was worried about. They are sick, on dialysis or have heart failure. I left them a message saying your doctor is here. I wanted them to know if they needed care and they were dry and safe and could make it in, that we were available to them.”
The following day, which would have been Candler’s wedding day, she and her fiancé worked alongside friends gutting and cleaning their flooded house. Her friends were just moving into the home and hadn’t unpacked yet. Sadly, the unpacked boxes were soaked from the floodwaters.
One box contained her friend’s wedding veil. Candler’s friends urged her to put on the veil and they all enjoyed big smiles and giggles for a moment amidst the disaster.
For Candler, the decision to postpone her wedding and continue to help her patients, community and friends in the wake of Harvey, was natural.
Looking forward to brighter tomorrows, Candler is making plans now to be married on President’s Day weekend in February 2018.
By Manda Emery, public affairs specialist, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.
Bringing out the heavy equipment: Heroes serving heroes in the wake of Harvey flooding
VA doctors went all out to get to their Veteran patients after Harvey.
On August 26, Dr. Annapurni Teague, associate chief of staff for Outpatient Care left work for the evening at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. Hurricane Harvey had hit the city the night before, but the medical center itself was safe and dry, with 392 patients inside needing care.
The morning of August 27 was different. Dr. Teague discovered that she could not drive through the flooding that had moved into the Houston area. At first, she attempted to walk the three and a half miles wading into water up to her knees.
Though he knew the VA hospital had no boats, VA Houston Police chief Stanley Staton remembered the heavy duty high-profile truck owned and operated by the transportation office. This gave him an idea.
Staton and Environmental Management Service chief Juan Burks drove the big truck out through standing water to pick up Dr. Teague and her colleague Dr. Christy Chai, chief of the VA Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). Staton drove the group back to the medical center just in time for Dr. Chai to rush inside to treat a patient with a burst appendix. The timing could not have been more perfect.
“I’m not a hero, we just did what we do on a daily basis,” Staton went on to say, “We picked up about 10 staff, surgeons, cooks, doctors, the director, deputy director, associate director, chief of staff. We knew we had critical folks out there who couldn’t get in, and the National Guard, FEMA, everybody else was busy. We went out there to get them.”
By Jamie Dannen, public affairs specialist trainee, New Orleans VA Medical Center.
Houston VA Homeless Program makes a difference after Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey has displaced thousands of Houstonians. As a large percentage struggle to put their homes in order, another group is placed in even more need.
Living homeless is a situation many people nationwide experience daily. However, Houston Veterans have a place to turn at the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Stadium, the two ‘mega-shelters’ in the Houston area for displaced flood victims where VA is also stationed to assist Veterans. According to Anthony Morris, director of the Community Resource and Referral Center at Houston’s Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center he is seeing a lot of familiar faces at the convention center – the Veterans his office has assisted over previous years.
“We are seeing Veterans who have homes, but are displaced because of the flood, and we are seeing Veterans who were impacted, but were already homeless,” said Morris.
More than 250 homeless and displaced Veterans recovering from the record breaking Houston flood have been seen by VA Houston staff so far.
Army Veteran William Smith, Jr. moved to Houston following Hurricane Katrina. He plans to work more closely with the Houston staff.
“They are fantastic here. The people here have a friendly spirit and care about the soldier,” he said. “I just need to get back on my feet. These guys are fantastic. They are here to take care of our needs, and they show an interest in my life. The storm has affected a lot of us, but not many people here, are here to help Veterans, like this group.”
By Shannon Arledge, communications manager, Veterans Health Administration.
Mobile Pharmacy delivers, Veterans get the care they need, when they need it
McKinney Street, located near downtown Houston, normally sees its share of large delivery trucks, and is a staple for commercial distribution sites. Following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Veterans, and non-Veterans, are noticing an odd presence of vehicles operated by VA in this part of town.
But the presence isn’t odd to the VA employees who commit to serving Veterans every day. Although their work location has slightly changed, these employees have left their everyday jobs at a main medical facility or outpatient clinic, to operate the VA Pharmacy Benefits Management Mobile Pharmacy. They provid lifesaving medications Veterans may otherwise have gone without.
“We provide basic emergent meds that patients need immediately,” said Michael Burzic, emergency pharmacy specialist, who typically spends his days at the Hines VA in Illinois. “We can’t provide long term meds, but emergent meds for hypertension, diabetes, and asthma, and other basic medications for minor pain and injuries. We do not carry or distribute controlled substances.”
The employees operating the Mobile Pharmacy are part of the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System. Hundreds of VA staff have volunteered and trained at their home stations to respond as part of the emergency operations group. During their time in Houston they will relocate to different areas of the city, and outside the city, providing this critical need.
“I think this is a great service,” said Deanna Pomyjal, pharmacy technician from the Waco, Texas, VA. “This experience will help me at my facility to ensure we continue our readiness. I also like the fact we have VA employees from all over the United States, working as a team. We all speak the same language and have never met.”
Houston native Felicia Reed says that her home is damaged and her family continues to put their lives back together. The U.S. Marine Corps Veteran noted that she heard about the mobile pharmacy through social media, and finding an opportunity to travel to the Houston VA has been difficult.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Reed. “I think this is very helpful. Getting into the VA is hard right now, with everything. This is perfect. I needed medications, and I also missed my doctor appointment during all this. This is very convenient and helpful. I couldn’t get out of my neighborhood for seven days. I really appreciate this pharmacy, I had very few days left on my medicine. This is a lifesaver today, seriously.”
“I feel very useful, and I know we are doing something good that benefits Veterans and the public,” said Neal Fourakre, clinical pharmacy specialist from the VA in Nashville, Tenn. “This has been a rewarding experience, and I hope I can help again.”
By Shannon Arledge, communications manager, Veterans Health Administration.
Supporting Veterans who support Veterans
Houston Veterans are fortunate to have the support of its many service organizations, including a one-stop-shop for Veterans services. It is called Combined Arms. Combined Arms has 39 service organizations in their network system: 13 are actually on site, at their downtown facility. Recently they activated an operations center and call center following Hurricane Harvey.
“The DAV has been disbursing vouchers for Veterans affected by the flood. We’ve had a large number of Veterans come through,” said Kelly Land, executive director of Combined Arms. “While they were here, they’ve seen the VA’s mobile pharmacy, mobile medical unit, and the Vet Center’s mobile mental health unit.”