Even before the rain began to slow the devastation was clear. Thousands of people had to be evacuated or rescued from flooded homes. As they made their way to the George R. Brown Convention Center-turned-shelter, so did available medical professionals from across the city.
Baylor became involved soon after the worst of the rain from Harvey stopped falling. City, state and federal organizers worked with health institutions from across the city to bring together the medical unit within the GRB. Among the many who volunteered were faculty from psychiatry, infectious disease, emergency medicine, nephrology, pediatrics, family medicine and tropical medicine. When NRG Stadium, just a few miles away, also opened as a shelter, Baylor faculty and staff also lent a hand.
Dr. Ashok Balasubramanyam, professor of medicine at Baylor, was responsible for reaching out to faculty to help man the medical units at the two shelters. Baylor faculty from Among the group were some that had past experience in responding to large emergency events.
Dr. Sophia Banu, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor, was a resident in New York during 9/11, and she also volunteers after the catastrophic 2015 Nepal earthquake.
“Each event is so unique in terms of what is needed, who responds, how people are affected. But what is consistent through it all is that as volunteers you need to have compassion. When you focus on the people and listen to what they need at that time you are really going to do the most good,” said Banu, who also helped to organize the Baylor psychiatry response at the GRB.
Another faculty member from psychiatry who responded to medical needs at the GRB was Dr. Jin Han, assistant professor. As the last of the rain still fell, Han arrived at work at Harris Health’s Ben Taub Hospital, taking it one street at a time to make sure he could arrive safely. He made sure things were running smoothly there before he and colleagues made their way to the GRB to begin working with the many other volunteers.
“Our Baylor group was there from the start, but there were other medical professionals from other institutions and practices as well. We all became a team suddenly. It was a bit chaotic at first but quickly everything came together and we all worked side by side,” Han said.
Han and his group of Baylor psychiatry faculty and residents ended up treating a wide range of mental and emotional issues. Some people had known problems but had to be evacuated suddenly and left their medication behind, others had medications but they were contaminated in flood waters, and some had never had issues before but faced anxiety, depression or panic attacks in response to the storm.
There were a wide range of health issues to take into account, such as people who could not make it to their dialysis appointments. Dr. William Mitch, professor of medicine at Baylor, said he become involved in the volunteer effort when a colleague of his asked him for help arranging dialysis treatment for an evacuee.
“We decided to go to the GRB to see what we could do to help and ended up staying for the whole day. We were joined by others from the Baylor nephrology division as well as volunteers for the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston,” he said.
Mitch and his colleagues talked to evacuees and evaluated their health conditions. They then arranged for transportation to available dialysis centers in the city that were still open and safe to get to.
“The most impressive experience for me was the organization and efficiency of the city administration and their interactions with the volunteers. Everyone was ready to pitch in and it was remarkably calm. Volunteers were not only available, but exhibited interest and enthusiasm to help people who were in need,” he said. “Their enthusiasm was palpable.”
Han added that while there were many health issues being treated by a diverse group of volunteers, the word that most came to mind was ‘hope.’
“We are so focused on what we are doing, that when you step back you start to see the bigger picture. This shelter at the GRB was such a massive effort at different levels within our community, including the city, state and federal levels,” Han said. “And it is not just the healthcare volunteers who are at the shelters that are supporting this effort; we are only able to be there because we know that a whole other healthcare team is keeping things running smoothly back at our home hospitals and clinics. It makes me feel proud that Baylor College of Medicine was part of the first responder team and we continue participating in the recovery process.”
Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor, said, “It is at times like these that we can clearly see the mission and values of Baylor College of Medicine in action. Not only in the community but in the teamwork shown to help each other.”
See many of the Baylor doctors who provided care at the GRB and NRG Center shelters in the slideshow below.
-By Graciela Gutierrez