Emergency physicians prepare for influx of Hurricane Harvey evacuees

Dr. Raymond Fowler
Dr. Raymond Fowler, Division Chief for Emergency Medical Services at UT Southwestern, preparing for arrivals at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

August 29, 2017 – DALLAS – With thousands of residents of Houston and South Texas expected to evacuate to Dallas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, UT Southwestern Medical Center faculty, staff, and students are among those leading preparations to assist evacuations, triage patients, provide mental and physical care, and assist with donations and blood drives.

Ahead of the arrival of evacuees, UT Southwestern physicians and fellows were helping prepare the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas to shelter evacuees, manage medical supplies, and plan for how patients will be triaged.

“This is what we are experienced in and train for daily to ensure we’re ready when we’re needed, so that we can provide the best possible care for the evacuees as they arrive. We are fortunate to have some of the most experienced people in disaster medicine on the UTSW faculty to assist Dallas in successfully managing the evacuation needs and to meet the medical needs of the evacuees,” said Dr. Raymond Swienton, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Division Chief for Emergency and Disaster Global Health, and Co-Director of the CDC Exemplar Center for Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

UT Southwestern Emergency Medicine faculty and residents, and EMS and Emergency and Disaster Global Health fellows are assisting with medical care for evacuees being housed at several Dallas shelters, including the convention center. On Monday Dr. Raymond Fowler, Professor of Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern and Medical Director at the convention center operations, spent the afternoon overseeing setup of thousands of green cots spread across the convention center floors, and going over strategies and operational details.

“This has the appearance of being the largest disaster response we’ve ever had in this community,” said Dr. Fowler, who is the Division Chief for Emergency Medical Services at UT Southwestern. He has been involved in responding to four previous hurricanes, two in 2005 and two in 2008. “This is a joint community effort and the thing that really warms my heart is that the Dallas community – the citizens and the medical community – have a way of coming together when it’s important, and this is an example of that.”

More than 100 cots were set up for the facility’s medical care area, including two triage areas, a quarantine area, a lactation area, as well as areas for stockpiling medical supplies ranging from blood pressure monitors and bandages to thermometers and crutches. The facility includes 10 high-acuity beds, 60 low-acuity beds, eight pediatric beds, and 20 beds in the observational area.

Emotional stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues will be a common problem faced by many evacuees that health care workers are preparing to handle, he added.

On the UT Southwestern campus, physicians, nurses and caregivers at UT Southwestern University Hospitals have been on stand-by since Friday preparing for the potential influx.

“We are reviewing clinical schedules and hospital capabilities to address the medical needs of any evacuees who may need to be transported to our care,” said Dr. John Warner, Vice President and CEO of UT Southwestern University Hospitals.

In addition, UT Southwestern students are volunteering for blood drives and were organizing diaper donations in preparation.