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“Like Getting Hit When You’re Down.” Health Providers, Still Recovering from Harvey, Respond to Imelda’s Impacts

As Imelda's waters rise, local health providers are working to treat patients.

Flooding from Tropical Storm Imelda deluges roadways near HOPE Clinic's newly opened center in Aldine, Texas. Many health providers were still recovering from Hurricane Harvey when the latest round of flooding occurred. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Clinic)
Flooding from Tropical Storm Imelda deluges roadways near HOPE Clinic's newly opened center in Aldine, Texas. Many health providers were still recovering from Hurricane Harvey when the latest round of flooding occurred. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Clinic)

Tropical Storm Imelda’s flooding impacts have continued to mount, and at least five people have perished since the storm made landfall last Tuesday. In addition to the fatalities, as of noon Friday local time, the storm has also led to 422 high-water rescues, 36 major crashes, and 357 stranded vehicles, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Along with these acute issues, local health providers are also responding to challenges brought on by Imelda’s deluge of rain, which has dumped over 40 inches of rain in the hardest hit areas east of Houston.

“Health centers, because they are nonprofits and their percentage of uninsured patients is so large, they operate on a razor thin margin. Then you get hit with a disaster… People in health centers are genuinely committed to their communities, so it’s like those who deserve the most get the least,” said Dr. Roxana Cruz, director of medical and clinical affairs for the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, known as TACHC, which represents health centers across the state.

In anticipation of these challenges, TACHC sent out guidance this week to their members about how to prepare for the storm, including communicating with patients so that they have the latest information regarding upcoming appointments and medication refills. TACHC also shared the latest Direct Relief/Facebook disaster map with its members to provide them with as much actionable data as possible.

In 2018, 42% of TACHC patients were uninsured and 68% earned less than the federal poverty level.

“What’s difficult is that the facilities are in the rebuilding phase after Hurricane Harvey, but many people are as well. So it’s not just the health center as an organization, it’s the people who work in the health center. They’re all in recovery mode. It’s almost like getting hit when you’re down.”

Cruz said that several member clinics were closed Friday, including the Triangle Area Network, a health center in Beaumont.

In Houston, at HOPE Clinic, another health center that responded extensively during Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, one of their newest locations was closed Friday.

Shane Chen, chief operating officer for HOPE, said locals waded through flooded streets in order to seek care at the facility.

“A mom and her daughter were coming over to the campus to try to get the to the dry spot, to higher land, and the mom scraped her foot in the water,” said Chen, describing a common injury after floods, which can raise the risk of infections, like tetanus.

Because the HOPE facility is so new, it had not received its state-issued supply of TDAP shots, which protect against tetanus. Direct Relief was able to deliver supplies Friday.

Other HOPE locations have experienced various degrees of flooding, but were able to remain open as patients continued to come for appointments and more urgent care.

“We treated everyone who came through. We tried to serve them as best as we can,” said Chen, whose group was giving out spare t-shirts from a past community benefit event, to keep people dry.

Looking ahead, Chen said HOPE has also requested mosquito repellent, because of standing water, and flu vaccines, since flu season is approaching.

Dr. Cruz said her members, and their patients, are continuing to do the best they can, even in the most difficult circumstances.

“Direct Relief has been instrumental in helping to rebuild and, more than that, to create a sense of resiliency. There’s no money attached to that – the hope given to people, to help them get over that difficult situation,” she said.

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