Spring 2018 — Hurricane Harvey was an unprecedented storm for the Houston area and one of the most damaging in U.S. history. As the storm approached the Texas coast August 25, 2017 and stalled out over the region as a tropical storm, hospital administrators and members of the Synergy Radiology Associates operations team went into action to ensure radiology coverage at area hospitals.
Michael Rodriguez, M.D., is Director of Radiology at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital and serves on the Synergy operations committee. His responsibilities include preparation for hurricanes or other natural disasters. During Harvey, Dr. Rodriguez was kept busy coordinating with area hospitals and Synergy to ensure adequate staffing at facilities served by Synergy radiologists.
“After the hurricane hit, there was a lot of communication back and forth to make sure we could cover the different facilities,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “There were many of our radiologists who had to stay at hospitals, for days, throughout the entirety of the storm.”
Synergy radiologist Kenneth Bryant, M.D., was working at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center as Harvey moved in.
“Our team came together and determined there needed to be an interventional radiologist staying at each hospital day and night.” said Dr. Bryant. “I went home and packed a few days’ supplies and came back to ride out the storm at the hospital.”
Dr. Rodriguez said the coordination was remarkable, and everyone pitched in to do what was needed to get through the historic storm.
“Various doctors brought in sleeping bags and extra food with them. Sometimes there were beds available, but often not, because stretchers were at a premium,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “Down at Clear Lake (Regional Medical Center), there was a lot of flooding, and it was very difficult for people to get in and out.”
When the storm hit, Drs. Miles, Uzelmeier and Jennings were already on duty there, and they told other radiologists to stay put. “They stayed at the hospital for days. It was very impressive, what they were able to accomplish, working alternating shifts,” noted Dr. Rodriguez. “We also had radiologists who stayed for about a week after the storm at Katy Hospital due to flooding.”
With our interventional radiologists and IR nurses available to the patients around the clock, our hospitals were able to provide numerous, critical medical procedures throughout the storm.
“The hospital is always on. Things don’t stop just for a hurricane and flooding.” – Kenneth Bryant, M.D.
“We performed a pleurodesis to treat a buildup of fluid in the lungs and a portacath to deliver chemotherapy treatment for a cancer patient, along with many other procedures,” explained Dr. Bryant. “You could see from the hospital that the feeder road was flooded. We had reports of all the flooding around us and webcams showing the flood waters. There was no place to go.”
Synergy had a proceduralist and interventionalist at just about every hospital, including Cypress, where one Synergy radiologist navigated treacherous waters to get to the hospital so he could be available during the storm.
“We coordinated with Synergy and the hospitals on staffing needs and were able to do all the medical procedures needed, including being available for trauma and other emergencies,” said Dr. Bryant.
With plans and staff in place, operations and critical radiology procedures continued throughout the storm. “The pre-planning and teamwork throughout the storm is what made this all possible,” said Dr. Rodriquez. “There is a lot of effort, coordination and work going on behind the scenes to keep things running, even during natural disasters and other emergencies.”
During natural external disasters, hospitals issue a Code Gray disaster plan, which includes limiting hospital access and visitations, and focusing on essential personnel.
“Code Gray was initiated during Harvey to help ensure that each department had someone in the facility at all times, and that applied to radiology as well,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “We had people on call and a protocol in place. If you were on call that weekend, then you were tagged to be the person that stayed over.”
Synergy radiologists and supporting staff stayed on duty at several hospitals for the duration of the storm. “A lot of our people grabbed what they needed, went to the hospital and slept there; they didn’t know if they were going to be there for eight hours or eight days,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “Kudos to all the radiologists who did that.”
Dr. Rodriguez emphasized that the entire effort took coordination, teamwork and dedication to patient care. Dr. Bryant agreed, noting that before the storm, hospital administration stayed in touch with Synergy, which then coordinated with its physicians and came up with a plan.
“We were able to implement the plan, knowing the storm was coming,” said Dr. Bryant. “I think it was a well-thought-out storm plan that we came up with, and everything went smoothly.”
Dr. Bryant is now a “hurricane veteran,” having worked through hurricane Ike in September 2008 at LBJ hospital in Dallas. “This makes the second hurricane I’ve ridden out at the hospital.”
And when the next storm threatens the Houston area? “We have already looked ahead to address future preparations, to make sure our plan is updated and in place before the next storm hits,” said Dr. Rodriguez.
“Storm or no storm, critical procedures were scheduled, and patients still needed care.” – Michael Rodriguez, M.D.