In recent years, monstrous hurricanes have put hospitals on high alert.
Some patients are too ill to evacuate; others need regular treatment that cannot wait for flooded streets to clear. Hospital staffing is strained when replacement workers can’t make it to work. Along with those issues, the storm surge washes in new health concerns.
Amid the chaos, health care communicators are working overtime to calm fears and educate a worried public.
Lessons from previous hurricanes and floods guide the messaging.
MD Anderson was hit really hard in 2001 during Hurricane Allison," he told Fortune in a phone interview. Rhim wasn't at the center back then–but he says that administrators took that event as a wakeup call and worked to shore up disaster management in the years since. "The response to Harvey has been a product of those preparations.
The CEO of Texas Medical Center, Bill McKeon, spoke with “PBS Newshour” about the high-tech innovations his hospital was using to protect patients and medical equipment:
We spent over $50 million creating this very sophisticated network of floodgates that actually protect all the assets. In [Hurricane Allison], we lost over $2 billion in research from the flooding of all of our buildings. These integrated floodgates are essentially submarine doors that actually protect these assets, and that the water really pushes off, maintains in streets, and flows away from the medical city.
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Jennifer Schulte, director of marketing for Citizens, said some critically ill patients had been transferred before Harvey made landfall, when a mandatory evacuation of the city was announced a day before. But the short time window meant that 80 other patients could not be moved. “The roadways there were very clogged up,” she said. “That would require patients to sit and wait. For some, in their condition, it would not be safe.
Most news stories about hospitals covered the individual efforts of doctors trying to serve their patients in difficult circumstances.
Adi Diab, an MD Anderson melanoma specialist, walked 3 miles on Monday through 1-foot deep waters from his home to the hospital to attend to a patient undergoing an experimental cancer treatment.
Because Dr. Diab and his colleagues were able to make it to the hospital, the patient treatment would go forward as planned, according to Dr. Diab, who planned to stay at the hospital until late Monday evening.
“I’m going to stay because it’s my patient, so I need to make sure the treatment is completed successfully," Dr. Diab said. “Thank God everything worked out.”
Communicators also helped connect the vast health care networks of America’s fourth-largest city.
Darrell Pile, CEO of Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council (a major player in the response to the disaster), told Stat he was pleased with hospitals’ interactions.
Pile praised the coordination of hospitals, first responders, and civic leaders that prevented further disaster. In the case of past major storms elsewhere, Pile said hospitals did not always effectively convey the damage inside their walls to one another, meaning that ambulances would bring patients to their doors even though the facilities might be unable to meet their needs.
By contrast, Pile said roughly 25 hospitals declared an “internal disaster”— a status that reflects a hospital facing problems in carrying out normal daily operations—that allowed SETRAC to pass along timely information along to first responders who could, in turn, divert patients toward care at hospitals capable of treating them.
Hospitals used their own media channels to relay messages to patients and educate the public about the health risks they could face in coming days.
They also tweeted about closed facilities and open hospitals:
[#WeatherUpdate]: All Texas Children's Pediatrics practices and Texas Children's Urgent Care locations are closed today.— Texas Children's (@TexasChildrens) August 29, 2017
They shared practical health tips about dangers like tetanus:
They also celebrated employees who were rising to the challenge:
We have the best employees! https://t.co/zXKHWvsr0k— Houston Methodist (@MethodistHosp) August 30, 2017
Non-area hospitals also tweeted out their support and shared what they were doing to help flood victims and stranded patients.
Communicators, how are you talking about Harvey and its lingering effects on your channels? Please share your most compelling stories and outreach efforts in the comments section.
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