United. Strong. Sturdy.


Texas Children’s weathers Hurricane Harvey

In the days leading up to the evening of Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, Texas Children’s braced for what would become the first widespread, severe weather event the organization faced since opening its community hospitals in West Houston and The Woodlands, and numerous urgent care, specialty and primary care clinics across the Greater Houston area.

Members of Texas Children’s Emergency Management Committee set up a command center, where they discussed plans regarding the hurricane and how it would affect Houston and Texas Children’s. Staff distributed extra supplies. And, both clinical and non-clinical employees prepared to ride out a storm that would eventually dump more than 50 inches of rain across the city. The storm displaced more than 1 million residents, damaged some 200,000 homes, and more than 80 lives were lost.


“Timing was a challenging question,” said Dr. Brent Kaziny, physician lead of the Emergency Management Committee at Texas Children’s Hospital. “When do you have everyone come in and shelter in place in the facility? If you do it too early, you’ve got people just sitting around waiting. If you do it too late, maybe people won’t be able to get in because their homes are already flooded and the roads are already impassable. At Texas Children’s, I think we did a phenomenal job of determining the right time.”

Riding out the storm

Through an all-hands-on-deck effort, the Texas Children’s successfully weathered Hurricane Harvey, which lasted a solid week as it made landfall twice, once as a Category 4 storm and then again as a Category 3 hurricane.

Leaders in the command center at the Texas Children’s Hospital Medical Center campus, met several times a day to touch base with employees from across the entire organization. Clinical staff worked 12-hour shifts, resting and rejuvenating in-between. And communication with all personnel was steady and effective throughout the storm.

Flooding was minimal at all locations, and needed supplies were in place, giving staff the ability to focus on their top priority – our patients and their families, many of whom took exceptional measures, including high-water vehicles, boats, helicopters and even dump trucks, to get to one of our locations and receive our care. By Thursday, Aug. 31, inpatient operations were back to normal, almost all Texas Children’s Pediatrics Clinics were open and seven of eight Urgent Care Clinics were back in business. The last to open were the specialty clinics at the Texas Children’s Hospital’s Medical Center campus because the Mark A. Wallace Tower was used to house ride-out teams between shifts. The facility had to be cleaned, restocked and prepared for patient care again.

“This was an unprecedented storm that tested the efficiency of our planning and our facilities and the tenacity and dedication of our people,” said Texas Children’s President and CEO Mark Wallace. “To say we passed the test is an understatement. Whether you helped prepare, rode the storm out at the hospital, relieved co-workers, prayed for our Texas Children’s family or encouraged someone here to push through, it all mattered. We bound together for each other and our patients, and we proved, again, that Texas Children’s isn’t just an amazing place for patients to receive care, this is an amazing organization where people become family.”


History of success

Texas Children’s has a history of success when it comes to weathering serious storms. In 2001 during Tropical Storm Allison, most of the hospitals in the Texas Medical Center had to evacuate due to severe flooding and couldn’t resume full operations for six to nine months.

Texas Children’s was open and operational the entire time, thanks to five basement-level flood doors the hospital had invested in the year before. The doors worked so well during Allison, additional ones were installed afterward.

“Texas Children’s is focused on being prepared during these events because we are committed to our patient population,” Kaziny said. “It’s something that we have a number of policies and plans in place for dealing with, and we drill annually at a high level across the entire system.”


After the storm

After Hurricane Harvey, a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to do an assessment of challenges and problems that arose at Texas Children’s. “I think they were kind of bored because everything worked so smoothly for us,” Kaziny said. “Their takeaway was that the institution is really writing the book on best practices for preparedness for these types of weather events.”

As the water receded in the Greater Houston area, the full extent of the damage was revealed, with many people’s lives uprooted more than they had ever imagined. As a result, many Texas Children’s employees donated time and resources to help community members and coworkers get back on their feet.

The extraordinary generosity of Texas Children's employees was evident in the 2,500-plus hours of personal time off and more than $200,000 they donated to the Employee Financial Assistance Fund during the months after the hurricane. In addition, more than $550,000 in financial aid and $73,850 in gift cards were provided to employees in the months after the storm.

“We are fortunate to be able to help members of our Texas Children’s family who are in need of assistance after the storm. Many employees and their families are still living in temporary housing and haven’t begun to realize the total amount of recovery costs ahead of them,” said Employee Assistance Program Manager Brent LoCaste-Wilken. “We also are very appreciative and proud of those who have already donated their time and money to help coworkers. This type of generosity illustrates our culture of unity and compassion.”

“I have seen many heartbreaking images from around our city, but just as compelling have been the scenes of resilience and kindness in our community,” Wallace said. “We are at our best when things are not easy. We are strong, compassionate and resourceful, and I’ve never seen any situation that surpassed our determination and our unity.”


Outreach efforts continue

Many of the immediate effects of a major disaster are visible to the public eye and include infrastructure damage, flooding and public health issues, such as water contamination. The long-term psychological impacts of a major event are harder to see.

In the aftermath of the storm, Texas Children’s has continued to go the extra mile for its patients, families and those in the community affected by the storm, launching the Harvey Resiliency and Recovery Program as part of Texas Children’s new Trauma and Grief Center. The Harvey Resiliency and Recovery Program was made possible through the support of the Children’s Health Fund and a generous donation from its famous cofounder Paul Simon and his wife Edie Brickell, a Texas native.

The Harvey Resiliency and Recovery Program will be dedicated to serving the needs of the many children and families adversely affected by the storm and its aftermath. The Trauma and Grief Center at Texas Children’s is one of the only health service agencies within this region of Texas with significant child trauma and bereavement expertise. The center will evaluate traumatized and/or bereaved youth between the ages of 7 and 17 and provide ongoing evidence-based treatments to those youth requiring intervention.

“Using evidence-based assessments and interventions, as well as providing trauma-informed training to mental health professionals and teachers in impacted communities, we hope to more quickly recognize and address the needs of children who are at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder and related psychological difficulties,” said Dr. Julie Kaplow, director of both the Trauma and the Grief Center and Harvey Resiliency and Recovery Program at Texas Children’s. “Surviving a disaster can be distressing for anyone, but youth who have already been exposed to trauma, traumatic loss and/or severe adversity are at particularly high risk for severe persisting stress and may need the support of a mental health professional. This new program will connect our experts to these children.”


The objective is to address the mental health needs of those who survived the recent storm and were exposed to trauma-related risk factors that research indicates is likely to predispose them to long-term mental, emotional and physical consequences.

“Children’s Health Fund has been responding to the needs of children and families post-crisis for 25 years now,” said Dennis Walto, chief executive officer of Children’s Health Fund. “We know kids who were living in poverty before the storm are now at the highest risk for short- and long-term negative impact on mental health and well-being. CHF looks forward to working with Texas Children’s team to develop programs that will reach all children and families impacted by the crisis – especially those who often struggle to access even basic health care – and to take those lessons to other communities that may be facing similar challenges.”

Texas Children’s is working with several community partners, including impacted school districts, to train professionals in how to screen and assess children who may need additional support. A formal screening tool is being used to help identify children who need higher level interventions, and experts at Texas Children’s Harvey Resiliency and Recovery Program will be available to meet with and treat these patients starting in early October.