Throughout its history, UTMB has weathered many significant storms.
Our response philosophy was forged more than a hundred years ago, after the first hurricane to affect the new medical campus: the devastating 1900 Storm, still considered the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. In learning of heavy damage to university facilities on Galveston Island, a member of the University of Texas Board of Regents wrote the eight words we invoke to this day when presented with a monumental challenge:
“The University of Texas stops for no storm.”
Today, those words ring true once again as UTMB’s students and employees deal with the effects of yet another Gulf of Mexico hurricane.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport on Aug. 25, it left a trail of devastation throughout Southeast Texas. In addition to destructive winds, many areas received more than 40 inches of rain over a four-day period as the system stalled over eastern Texas. The record-breaking rain resulted in high-water rescues, flooded homes and days of uncertainty and anxiety.
Throughout it all, our people and facilities demonstrated UTMB’s trademark resiliency. Health care teams continued to deliver world-class care at each of UTMB’s three campuses, many working five or six days in a row without going home. Food services employees braved flood waters to make it to work so they could serve meals to patients, families, faculty and staff. Police officers ensured life-saving blood supplies made it to the Galveston Campus. Correctional Managed Care employees helped evacuate thousands of offenders, putting their own personal worries aside. The instances of heroic actions and moments of kindness are endless.
“As in the past with Hurricane Ike and the John Sealy Hospital fire, when circumstances seem to be at their worst, the UTMB family is always at its best,” said Dr. David L. Callender, president of UTMB. “The response and results our family delivered for our patients, employees, students and communities were the same as with the previous two calamities: steady, selfless, thoughtful and outstanding.”
UTMB’s Emergency Operations Center activated days before Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane, paying close attention to weather forecasts and putting plans in place to deal with any impacts to UTMB.
Since Hurricane Ike in 2008, UTMB has invested more than $1 billion to rebuild its infrastructure to face future storms. Improvements have included moving essential functions to higher levels, hardening utilities and adding protective walls around certain buildings. New buildings, including the Galveston National Laboratory and Jennie Sealy Hospital, were designed to withstand wind and storm surge.
The resources devoted to addressing weather risks at the Galveston Campus and improving resiliency at the League City and Angleton Danbury campuses, has paid off. Despite widespread flooding throughout the surrounding region—which at times left the two mainland campuses dry, but isolated and almost inaccessible by normal vehicles— all of UTMB’s hospitals and emergency departments remained open during the storm and provided much needed help to their communities.
Throughout UTMB’s weeklong period of emergency status, leaders from around the institution took part in Incident Command meetings twice a day, with ongoing efforts to monitor and adjust to changing conditions around the clock. The twice-daily meetings were followed up by communications efforts to keep employees and students informed.
During the meetings, leaders from all three campuses and areas of the institution discussed the challenges they were facing and decided on next steps, based on available information. Whether it was finding ways to transport employees to a certain campus, ensuring all campuses had adequate supplies to support employees and patients, figuring out a way to get blood shipped to a hospital or finding ways to help tired staff members rest and recharge, UTMB employees worked across departments to find solutions.
“The flexibility and willingness of our employees to adjust to changing plans was greatly appreciated,” Callender said. “This emergency event was different from others, as it lasted several days and we had to make our operational plans on a day-to-day basis as the storm moved in and out of the region.”
Thanks to a combination of factors including preparation, hard work and good luck, UTMB fared well overall, with no major damage to its facilities. The institution even helped partnering hospitals who needed to evacuate patients–including several babies from Baptist Hospital in Beaumont who were safely airlifted to the Galveston Campus neonatal intensive care unit.
As UTMB returned to normal operations on Sept. 1, University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven and Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. Raymond Greenberg visited the Galveston Campus to thank the UTMB community for its tremendous response to the disaster. In addition to attending the final Emergency Operations Center meeting, McRaven toured UTMB’s East Plant, emergency room, NICU and medical ICU, where he had the opportunity to hear employee stories and voice his appreciation.
“I want to express my profound gratitude and admiration to our health care professionals and staff who—despite the hardships their own families are facing, and potential damage to their own homes—have stayed on the job to provide life-saving care to fellow Texans in need,” McRaven said in a statement prior to his visit. “Together, I know we will rise to the occasion, and you can count on all of us at the UT System to do its part.”
Employee and student impact
Although Hurricane Harvey is gone, the UTMB community did not emerge unscathed by Harvey’s wrath. While UTMB employees continued providing Best Care to patients and their families during some of the most terrifying moments, many employees and students suffered damage to their homes and vehicles. In some cases, members of the UTMB community lost all of their personal property in the storm. Even those who didn’t sustain property damage were affected by the experience.
“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy,” Callender said. “I want to assure everyone that we will do all we can to assist our affected employees and students with recovery. In the coming days, weeks and months, we need to take care of ourselves and treat each other with patience and compassion.”
To ease recovery efforts, a new Harvey Recovery website (www.utmb.edu/harvey-recovery
) includes information on two recovery funds that have been established to support students and employees who experienced damage as a result of Harvey.