AAHA hospitals bounce back after Harvey

Hurricane Irma blew Hurricane Harvey out of the headlines last week, but Harvey is still top of mind in Texas. Harvey dumped a year’s worth of rain in less than a week in Houston and the southeastern part of the state, and residents are still mopping up.

“This is going to be a massive, massive cleanup process,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Sept. 1. “This is going to be a multiyear project for Texas to be able to dig out of this catastrophe.” Abbott said damages could reach $180 billion, which would make it the costliest natural disaster in US history.

Among the many businesses devastated by the flood is AAHA-accredited Steubner Airline Veterinary Hospital in Spring, Texas. Liz Roesner, an LVT at Steubner, says they’re lucky to be up and running at all.

“We ended up with five feet of water in the building and lost everything. About three million dollars worth.” Luckily for Steubner, they have a two-story building. Roesner says they were boarding 50 dogs on the second floor when the storm hit on Friday, August 25. The staff held out for two days while the waters rose. On Sunday afternoon they were given 45 minutes to evacuate.

They got the dogs out in 30, thanks to a flotilla of rescue boats and first responders that showed up on their watery doorstep. Steubner employees fostered the dogs at home until their owners, many of whom were traveling out of the country, could get back.

Roesner says the local veterinary community was quick to help out, offering assistance, supplies, and office space. “It’s really been amazing how they’ve reached out to us.” 

As of Monday, Sept. 11, Steubner was open for business again, albeit working out of trailers and spare exam rooms in other clinics. “Today’s the grand opening of our refugee camp,” she laughs when contacted by phone in the trailer where she’d set up her temporary command post.

Roesner is especially happy to be open again for the sake of Steubner’s staff. “We have 70 employees and we are trying to get some income for them.” Roesner says the building is trashed. “We’re going to have to tear out everything and all our equipment had to be thrown away.” Roesner estimates it could be four to eight months before the building is ready.

Meanwhile, she says cheerfully from inside her trailer, “We are faking it to the best of our abilities.”

Other AAHA practices escaped the flood, but were left short-handed when staff couldn’t make it in during the storm. Linda Noble, DVM, owner of AAHA-accredited Tanglewood Animal Hospital in Houston, staffed her hospital by herself for a couple of days at Harvey’s height, but says things there are back to normal now.

Noble ruefully notes that her landlord was supposed to put a new roof on the building last year but didn’t get around to it, and the clinic leaked pretty badly during the storm, but she counts herself lucky. “We had no flooding, we’re ahead of the game.” Other hospitals she works with weren’t so fortunate. Noble mentioned one 80,000-square-foot hospital that had a partial building collapse. “It’s going to take them a while to rebuild.” Meanwhile she’s lending them the use of one of her exam rooms until they can get up and running.

Flooding wasn’t a probem at at AAHA-accredited Vergi 24/7 Emergency and Critical Care Hospital in Houston, either. Michael Seely, DVM and Vergi’s Chief of Staff says, “We were high enough we didn’t have any water.” Like Tanglewood, the big problem was lack of personnel. Seely says he got to work the Saturday morning after Harvey hit and didn’t leave for four days. “It was just me and one other doctor. We were open the whole time.”

Seeley worked from Saturday morning straight through Tuesday night, and Amy Sutherland, DVM, worked through Wednesday morning. He says Sunday was actually kind of slow, but they got slammed on Monday and they stayed slammed through Thursday. They saw two to three times the usual number of patients. “A lot of dogs with GI issues, a lot of blocked cats.” 

It was exhausting, but Seely and Sutherland were able to snatch some down time by renting a hotel room down the street and trading off breaks. “I’d sleep for a little bit, she slept a little bit. It was enough to keep us going.”

Three weeks post-Harvey, Seeley says, “We’re still really busy.” But things are slowly returning to normal, and Vergi 24/7 isn’t holding down the fort alone anymore. “Most of the other practices around us are back up and running full time.”

Photo credit: ©iStock/Karl Spencer

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