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A Flood of Problems


`KQO aRK^O`O\ aO MY_VN v ]KSN 7K\U 9aOX] .\ ,O\LO\SKXt] YP MO WKXKQO\ u6_MU ily, I had put all our computers and everything about eight feet up, so we were able to save all the patients’ information, because we’re completely electronic. But ev- erything else was pretty much a total loss.” Getting the salvageable stuff out was not easy. The hospital had immediately


started yanking out damaged drywall, and that just added to the unpleasant- ness.


u>RO\O aK] ^RO ]WOVV KXN ^RO\O aO\O XY VSQR^] KXN cY_ RKN N\caKVV N_]^ c


ing around everywhere,” Mr. Owens said. “By the second day, mold had already started to form.” 1O^^SXQ O`O\c^RSXQ Y_^ aK] T_]^ ^RO \]^ ]^OZ +P^O\ ^RK^ O`O\c^RSXQ RKN ^Y LO ]M\_LLON KXN WKNO \OKNc PY\ ^RO XOa YP MO “With a U-Haul, we actually took everything to the physician’s house,” Mr.


Owens said. “His kids and family were cleaning everything up.” +^ \]^ S^ aK]Xt^ MVOK\ ^RK^ ^ROc aY_VN LO KLVO ^Y YZOX K XOa YP MO >RO


TYL T_]^ VYYUON ^YY LSQ ,_^ ^RO ]^KPP aK] KLVO ^Y XN XOa ]ZKMO — at the same L_SVNSXQ aRO\O .\ ,O\LO\SKX \]^ YZOXON RS] SX^O\XKV WONSMSXO Z\KM^SMO LKMU in 1999. +P^O\ ^RK^ ^ROc Z_^ ^RO O[_SZWOX^ SX^Y ^RO XOa YP MO KVYXQ aS^R ]YWO SXOb


pensive Ikea furniture. Mr. Owens and other staffers spent extremely long days QO^^SXQ ^RO YP MO _Z KXN \_XXSXQ KQKSX ,_^ KP^O\ T_]^ YXO aOOU .\ ,O\LO\SKX was back in business. “So we have a physician and a physician’s assistant pretty much with full schedules trying to make up for the backlog,” Mr. Owens said, three weeks af- ter the storm. “It has been crazy trying to do that. The small waiting room is full. Patients are uncomfortable and inconvenienced. On the other hand, they’re happy that we’re open.”


Focus on mental health


Despite the many problems caused by physical ailments and injuries, Dr. Mut- ter, the Columbia University professor, says that most of the biggest and lon- gest-lasting issues are likely to be tied to behavioral health. For instance, he says, domestic abuse tends to rise in the wake of natural disasters. “I think the increase in family stress surprises some people,” he said. “It


shouldn’t surprise you, but it does. People who live in a [Federal Emergency Management Agency] trailer who used to live in a house get sick of each oth- er quickly, and that leads to trouble. … Post-disaster health issues are as much mental health issues as they are physical health issues.” Valerie Rosen, MD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Dell Medical School and an expert in PTSD. She says primary care physicians in Texas, especially those in the coastal areas, should screen their patients for signs of emotional distress. Dr. Rosen says after a traumatic event, the large majority of people will have some symptoms consistent with PTSD, but most will recover without medical help and not go on to have full-blown PTSD. Only about 20 percent to 30 per- cent of people go on to meet the full criteria for PTSD. “If someone has not recovered on their own, they probably do need to seek


treatment to prevent it from being lifelong,” she said. “But it is something that is very treatable.” A major event like Hurricane Harvey can also kick up memories of past


30 TEXAS MEDICINE November 2017


traumas, Dr. Rosen says. For instance, a person who suffered childhood sexual abuse might function well under normal circumstances but face NSP M_V^c KP^O\ K XK^_\KV NS]K]^O\ Many people also will be dealing with grief, says Dr. Levin, the Univer- sity of Texas Health Northeast pro- fessor. The hurricane’s death toll was relatively low: at least 82 as of press time. Even so, people will be moving ^R\Y_QR ^RO `O ]^KQO] YP Q\SOP Y`O\ lost houses, jobs, schools, friends, and neighbors. “We’ll be progressing through that,


and everyone does that at a different rate,” Dr. Levin said. “There will be a sense of being physically and emo- tionally drained. People may experi- OXMO NSP M_V^c WKUSXQ NOMS]SYX] ]^Kc ing focused.” Dr. Rosen agrees that there is plen-


ty of reason to be concerned about the health issues Texans will be facing because of Hurricane Harvey. But she says it’s equally important to under- stand that not all the effects will be harmful or create more problems.


THE NATIONAL GUARD/FLICKR


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