Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TMA Establishes Relief Program to Assist Hurricane-Devastated Medical Practices

When staff of a Houston-area children’s urgent care clinic saw security-camera images of brown, murky Hurricane Harvey floodwater submerging the waiting room, they knew it was bad. Quickly, the physicians and other clinic workers jumped into action. They also consulted the Texas Medical Association (TMA) for help, and learned about the TMA Disaster Relief Program.

Pediatrician Anastasia L. Gentles, MD, said help was needed because Harvey flooded their NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care clinic in Humble. “Our x-ray equipment, our nebulizers, all of our inventory except the few things in the upper cabinets – was destroyed,” she said. “Our whole crash cart had water in it… it was awful.”

Floodwaters inundated the typically busy medical practice. Staff helplessly watched the destruction on security cameras. “At first it was just water on the floor,” said Dr. Gentles. “Then a couple of hours later you couldn’t see the chairs. It was a little lake in there.”

After the water receded, photos documented the damage: Unopened packages of supplies to treat patients were crumpled and waterlogged, including child-sized bandages, tongue depressors, boxes of stickers  — Sponge Bob, Paw Patrol, Mickey Mouse — and stethoscopes in water-lined drawers. The cabinets and drawers were all warped and splitting. In the lobby, a nest of furniture — a colorful child-size plastic table and little chairs tangled with adult-size waiting-room chairs, tilted askew — all sat covered in a beige filmy slime. Mold was quickly growing, so all internal walls would have to be removed.

Dr. Gentles outside NightLight Pediatric Urgent
Care Clinic during cleanup after Hurricane Harvey.
They salvaged what they could and raced to schedule a demolition crew and contractor to rebuild the facility. They also started searching for a temporary home in which to care for patients.

“We feel the loss from a community standpoint. Everybody keeps calling us — people were coming up to the door even the day after the storm to get their children seen,” said Dr. Gentles. “So we know they’re missing us from that standpoint.” They also want to reopen quickly to help their staff — many of whom lost their home or cars in the flood – get back to work.

The TMA Disaster Relief Program aims to help the countless medical practices across south and coastal bend Texas facing a similar fate return to caring for patients as quickly as possible — and the need is great. A new TMA survey finds nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of physicians in Texas’ official disaster area counties were forced to close their practice temporarily, and one-third (35 percent) had to reduce their hours or services.

“People need their doctor, but so many of our physicians suffered total, devastating losses to their medical practices as a result of Hurricane Harvey,” said TMA President Carlos J. Cardenas, MD. “We wanted to jump in and help them rebuild or relocate as quickly as possible, because their patients need them.”

Funds the Disaster Relief Program distributes will help physicians pay for storm loss expenses their insurance or other sources will not cover.

The program has raised a substantial amount already. The California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island state medical associations have pledged or sent generous donations. This past Saturday at TMA’s Fall Conference, the American Medical Association and the Physicians Foundation presented checks for $150,000 and $500,000, respectively, pushing the total raised to nearly $1 million. To donate to the program, click here.

“Doctors understand the call to care for their patients, and empathize with colleagues stripped of the ability to help their people, their community,” said Dr. Cardenas. “So we’re thrilled — but not really surprised — that these physicians and their organizations are opening their wallets to help Texas doctors help Texas patients. This storm was a monster, and communities across the south are hurting; they need to get back to normal, and they have basic needs like food, shelter, and health care. We want them to regain that access to their hometown doctor as quickly as possible.”

TMA created similar fund drives after hurricanes Rita and Ike in 2005 and 2008, donating between $5,000 and $8,000 to each medical practice in need. TMA received $700,000 in contributions to the fund in 2008. TMA’s philanthropic arm, TMA Foundation, is overseeing fundraising, and The Physicians Benevolent Fund is administering the TMA Disaster Relief Program. Physicians: To apply for assistance through the TMA Disaster Relief Program, visit texmed.org/Disaster or email disaster@texmed.org.”

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