Lessons From Allison

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Hurricane Ike Feature - November 2008



By Keith A. Bourgeois, MD

St. Joseph Medical Center, located in downtown Houston, opened its Command Center on Thursday, Sept. 11, and closed on Tuesday, Sept. 16. Important lessons learned from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, including floodgates and submarine doors, were deployed on Friday night.

Hurricane Ike caused remarkably little damage to our facility, only five broken windows and several roof and window leaks. There was no flood. We never lost electrical power. We are the only trauma hospital seeing adults that was not in an internal disaster mode for several hours during and immediately after the hurricane.

Hospital administration and nursing and medical leaders assembled a storm team, including both a ride-out and a recovery team.  Many physicians volunteered for this ride-out, including John E. Bertini Jr., MD, chair of the Governing Board, and Donald R. Collins Jr., MD, chief of staff.  They were joined by physicians from various specialties, including neonatology, anesthesiology, obstetrics, general surgery, and even extra emergency room physicians.

St. Joseph Medical Center had approximately 300 patients and sheltered approximately 600 physicians and staff, including family members. There was even a place for pets and a day care center for employees' children. 

The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston sent extra surgery residents. Some of them were able to assist in emergency cases, including a stabbing victim operated on by Thomas V. Taylor, MD, after midnight on the night the hurricane came ashore.

The UTMB surgery residents also were very helpful in the Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Room when things got very busy a few days after Ike.  The Women's Center remained active with 15 births, including several C-sections done the weekend of the storm, primarily by Eugene C. Toy, MD.

I was part of the recovery team and was truly amazed at the dedication and professionalism of the ancillary staff.  This includes maintenance, housekeeping, and cafeteria workers, who, uncomplaining, handled the extra work.

The main problem post-storm was low water pressure and possible water contamination in the municipal water supply. Bottled water was sent throughout the hospital, and nonpotable water was used for toilets until the pressure normalized and the water supply was deemed safe a few days later by Houston authorities. 

As gasoline became a problem because of the extensive power outages in the Houston area, dedicated employees borrowed cars to relieve their coworkers.

The Wednesday after Ike, a very successful blood drive helped replenish the local blood bank. The 135 people who donated helped to ease a critical shortage of blood products in Houston.

UTMB was hard hit and was closed as this was written in late September. The UTMB Radiation/Oncology Service, chaired by Martin Colman, MD, moved entirely to St. Joseph Medical Center, notifying their patients in the Daily News , the Galveston newspaper. 

The UTMB Transplant Service moved its clinic here, and additional general surgery, anesthesia, and internal medicine residents trained here. 

St. Joseph Medical Center was very fortunate to be able to resume all activities, including elective surgery, a few days after Ike. Many physicians and staff had damage to their homes, but you would not know it by their cheerful work.

Dr. Bourgeois is a Houston ophthalmologist and chair of the TMA Council on Socioeconomics.



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