A Firsthand Account of Harvey: How Communities United Amidst Disaster

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After this year’s hurricane season, it’s no wonder that the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) designated September as National Preparedness Month. Just a few weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey tore through eastern Texas, causing estimated damages of $190 billion and flooding of 100,000 homes in Houston alone. Hurricane Irma followed suit, causing massive damages in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast.
As Hurricane Harvey made its way toward Houston, Privia Medical Group physicians braced for the worst. Despite everyone’s best efforts, many practices were affected, some completely destroyed. Clay Golightly, a physician assistant at St. Elizabeth Urgent Care and Family Practice in Dickinson near the coast of Texas, one of the areas hardest hit by Harvey, describes how he and the rest of the staff made basic preparations for the storm by reducing hours, a measure which did little to prepare them for the flooding that soon overwhelmed their town.

Impassable Flooding

“By the time Saturday came around, our main intersection to get to [St. Elizabeth], quickly flooded and became impassable,” shared Golightly. “I have a raised Jeep so I attempted to check on the clinic on Sunday. [As I was driving] the water got very deep and many ahead of me began turning around. I made it to the point where I could see highway 45, and then a boat crossed in front of me!” At that point, Clay decided he should turn around for his own safety.
“Later that day I was sent pictures from a boat that passed by our clinic. Water had risen about 2.5 to 3 feet high in the building. The sights of the devastation were very humbling…people were swimming from their homes with nothing but a single trash bag of their necessities and memories.”
After the storm subsided, St. Elizabeth’s staff returned to the practice to survey the wreckage. Their building was flooded and needed to be cleaned and remodeled. Besides damage to the building’s structure, necessary medical equipment was destroyed. “It was difficult coming back to see the damage. This place has become our second home over the past five years or so. We have invested so much of ourselves into it. We all were so grateful that things weren’t worse but we knew this would be a huge setback.”

“Water had risen about 2.5 to 3 feet high in the building. The sights of the devastation were very humbling…people were swimming from their homes with nothing but a single trash bag of their necessities and memories.”

A Community United

Despite its challenges, the disaster helped St. Elizabeth’s staff unite in a new way. “After that first day of working with almost all of our staff, we felt closer as a team than ever before. There was such a strong sense of unity and care for each other and also for our purpose in serving our patients,” says Clay. In the interim, St. Elizabeth’s set up shop at another location in Texas City to continue to see patients.  
Golightly also describes how his community at large came together in the aftermath of the storm. “So much was done outside the guidance of an organized effort by parties such as the Red Cross. It was as if the community itself was it’s own organization; it’s own organism trying to help itself. It’s rare to see such moments.”

And St. Elizabeth’s does not have to rebuild without the help of a partner. “Privia was more than happy to come out and assist with getting our technology up and running. Privia staff were on site at the new location to assist and see what our needs were. They were in contact with us throughout the entire transition, asking what we needed, making sure things were going smoothly.” Privia jumped in immediately to help St. Elizabeth’s and other PMG practices regain their footing after the hurricane with technical support, telehealth services, and the coordination of a Harvey Relief Fund.
For now, St. Elizabeth’s is overseeing the remodeling process at its home clinic, which is almost halfway complete. Staff hopes to be back fully within a month. “Our main concern is not letting our patients down. They have been through a lot and need the best care possible. We don’t want our situation to cause any decrease in the care they have come to expect from us.”

“On behalf of the entire Privia Medical Group team, we wish you, and all who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey, safety and healing. Although our team is scattered geographically, our hearts are with you in Houston and the surrounding area during this time and beyond.” -Dr. Keith Fernandez, Senior Medical Executive, Privia Health