Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's Been a Long Time Coming

As medical services were abruptly cut for evacuees in the Astrodome and evacuees from the Astrodome and Reliant Center were abruptly herded into Reliant Arena, beginning at 10:00 p.m. one evening, I wondered how things would play out for the evacuees. However, when medical services at the unbelievably cold Reliant Arena were whittled down to one poorly-supplied table, I had a hunch that I knew. And I wasn't far off. Within a few days, all evacuees were told that they had to leave or be whisked off to Arkansas to avoid the coming Hurricane Rita. In all that activity, I wondered if everyone would forget how the evacuees had been treated in New Orleans and in Houston. And for a few months, it seemed like they had.

Until this week.

Evacuees are telling their stories to Congress, and this is again highlighting the issues of race and poverty that initially came up immediately after Katrina. While these issues can be painful to address, if they can be dealt with openly and honestly, the consequences short term and long term are so much better than if they are swept under the rug and denied. Let's embrace this process. We have allowed racism to divide us for too long. Even if you don't believe that racism played a part in the local and national response to Katrina evacuees, isn't it worth being curious as to why black and white people have such different perceptions on these issues? Even if you don't believe that white people would have been left behind on rooftops in New Orleans, aren't you curious why some people do believe that? Even if you don't believe that white people would have been treated any differently in the Superdome or Astrodome, isn't it worth being curious about why some people do believe that?

Let's have these conversations before we boil over as a country and experience damage we cannot repair.

Tracy McGaugh

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Evacuation Rita

We are back. We're still getting our bearings after our own evacuation experience. We're regrouping and deciding how best to help Katrina evacuees with the resources we have left from monetary donations and donations of goods that folks sent to our attention. And we're trying to decide how best to present what happened in the last few days that Katrina evacuees were in the mass shelter at the Reliant Arena.

Our hope is that we can integrate all of this information into a conherent post that is informative to those who have been reading this blog and that might provide some help to any officials who are interested in learning what they can about how to provide better for citizens when no warning is given (Katrina) and when perhaps a bit too much warning is given (Rita).

Be well and stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Our Turn

Today probably would have been the day we wrapped up telling you the last of what happened in the Arena, but Hurricane Rita has another plan for us.

Fortunately, with plenty of resources and the lessons you learn listening to hurricane stories for three weeks, we're heading much further inland a full two days before the storm hits. Fortunately, we have relatives of mine (Tracy) to stay with because, already, there's not a hotel room to be had in the State of Texas that I can tell(unless we're willing to travel all the way to El Paso).

Wish us well -- we hope to be back next week.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Blankets Needed at Reliant Arena

A post from Tracy:

If you are in the Houston area and have extra blankets you might be willing to take down to Reliant Arena to donate, that would be awesome. Reliant Arena has been exceptionally cold, and the Red Cross has been unable to provide sufficient blankets for the evacuees. As of yesterday, the best way to get in was Gate 5 -- it's off the Fannin exit of 610 South, and it's right at the corner of 610 and Fannin on the 610 access road. Fair warning: traffic is likely to be heavy tomorrow because of the Texans season opener at Reliant Stadium -- however, this is the gate closest to the Arena and, therefore, the one designated for folks helping out volunteers as of yesterday.

Until further notice, please do not continue to send us money for medical supplies or boxes of medical supplies. We'll explain more about that later. The money that we have left will be used to buy blankets. The supplies that we have left will either be donated to the Red Cross medical station at the Arena, providing limited medical assistance to evacuees, or to private shelters housing evacuees around the city.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Update on Reliant Park

We can no longer call it Update on the Dome, because the Dome has been cleared out and residents moved to the smaller Reliant Arena to shield them from public view in anticipation of the Houston Texans season opener at Reliant Stadium. Clearing the Dome, of course, is great. You may recall from earlier posts that there were three shelter facilities in the Astrodome/Reliant Complex: The Astrodome, Reliant Center, and Reliant Arena. Of the three, Reliant Center was definitely the cleanest, safest, and best run. It had a reasonably nice play area and library for children and plenty of room for clothing and food distribution, as well as a press room and offices for other services that needed to be provided for evacuees and administrators/organizers. However, the shelter chosen for consolidating all evacuees in Reliant Park was the smaller Reliant Arena. As the first evacuees were moved in Wednesday night to a part of the building that could best be described as looking like an indoor parking structure, evacuee tensions were running high.

As of this afternoon, Reliant Arena is already filled to capacity. It does not have enough room for the remaining evacuees and the service providers that need to be with them in the building (medical, informational, food service, etc.). Again, officials are to be commended for moving evacuees out of the Astrodome. However, it's a shame that Reliant Arena was chosen as the place to consolidate all remaining evacuees instead of the far more welcoming Reliant Center, especially in light of the Arena's obvious space limitations. If one were to inquire as to the reason for choosing a facility too small to hold all evacuees and service providers, we suspect the reason might be -- as it has in the past -- something along the lines of "insufficient time to plan."

The cut in medical services has caused some predictable problems at the Arena that we've witnessed firsthand. At this point, though, recounting individual tragedies is just traumatic and -- in this particular case -- unnecessary in light of the news story below. More medical problems are predicted at Reliant Arena in addition to the predictable strain on the already-strained Houston emergency care system. Following is a story from the local ABC affiiate describing the problems.

The main clinic at the Reliant shelter closed its doors on Thursday and for the first time Houston's emergency rooms will be put to the test, to see how they can handle the additional people. Already there are concerns about increased wait times for patients.

First of all, Houston emergency physicians say if you have a medical emergency, go to the emergency room. That's where you need to be. But if your medical problem isn't an emergency, be prepared to wait.

Doctors from the Texas Medical Center built the Astrodome clinic from the ground up in just 8-12 hours. Baylor doctors were proud of what they did, but it was also a calculated way to prevent Houston's overloaded emergency rooms from drowning.

"We all expect we will be getting lots of patients," said Dr. Joan Shook, Director of Texas Children's Hospital Emergency Center.

With the Astrodome clinic closing, emergency rooms like Texas Children's are bracing themselves.

Dr. Shook said, "We're gearing up for larger volumes. In effect, Houston has a whole new little city transplanted onto it without a whole new healthcare infrastructure, so these families will be seeking care in emergency departments."

Already, the Texas Children's ER has seen a spike in the number of patients. Typically 210 patients a day are treated in the ER. Now it's 260 a day. That can mean long, long waits.

"I think for relatively minor illness, it could be as long as 8-10 hours and not just here -- at other hospitals as well," Dr. Shook explained.

There is advice for Houstonians.

"I would recommend to families they access their primary care provider or community clinic before they try the emergency system," Dr. Shook advised.

And to new residents from Louisiana and Mississippi she suggests finding a clinic before they get sick.

She said, "They might be able to find a clinic or primary care provider close to where they're living rather than having to go to the emergency department."

Also with so many living in shelters, doctors are worried about infections -- especially hepatitis A.

"We are looking for an outbreak of hepatitis A," said Dr. Shook. "We don't know that it's going to happen but it's reasonable to assume it might. So we're preparing for that possibility. We also expect more diarrhea."

Doctors are also watching to find any increase in tuberculosis, meningococcal disease, even the super staph infections -- any illness that can be transmitted in close quarters.

I (Tracy) have to say that my "favorite" part about this story is that it wasn't news when medical services began shutting down Monday night and having an immediate effect on evacuees. It was only news when the warning had to go out to Houstonians explaining how it would effect them directly. Priceless.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Kudos to Local Volunteers; Update on Astrodome

It's been a few days since the last post. Here's what's up.

The citizens of Houston have been abuzz with activity since the first busload of evacuees arrived on the evening of Wednesday, September 1. The caravans of busses didn't begin arriving until Thursday evening, September 2, so that's when everything really got into full gear. Since then, you can't drive more than a few blocks anywhere in the city without seeing a spontaneous citizen- or church-sponsored drive or donation center set up in a parking lot for Katrina evacuees. As far as the people of Houston are concerned, taking care of the evacuees has been a top priority. In the grocery stores, you see shopping carts full of what are clearly donations for the various shelters, both the huge city and county shelters (George R. Brown, Reliant Arena, Reliant Center, and the Astrodome) as well as local church and Red Cross shelters. When you talk to people in Houston, the question isn't whether you've volunteered but where and when. The outpouring of donations of time, money, and goods has been really wonderful, and we're proud to be just two of the many volunteers in this awesome effort. The George R. Brown Convention Center shelter stands as a model of the kind of organizational effort that we're capable of. It's a warm, welcoming facility that really makes good on our invitation to welcome and care for evacuees during this time of crisis.

We have continued to make pharmacy runs for the OTC pharmacy on the Dome floor. We've become pals with the night shift and they keep a running list for us. We cannot thank enough the folks who have contributed money and boxes of supplies to help keep the pharmacy stocked. The medical staff sends its thanks as well. Night before last, we were asked to bring saw dust and "pooper scoopers" to help them clean up the vomit on the floors -- there's an intestinal bug going around. Naturally, bugs of various kinds are going to go around when you have that many people in a space together. So last night, we arrived around 8:00 p.m. with the saw dust and scoopers along with several boxes of supplies that had just arrived in the mail. We wanted to pass on what we learned.

* All medical facilities in Reliant Park (including the Astrodome, Reliant Center, and Reliant Arena) were to close at 11:00 p.m. last night. Medical staff received this information at 8:00 p.m. Many arrived for the night shift only to be told to go home. Many already there left only because they had direct orders to do so.

* All facilities re-opened at 8:00 a.m. today. From today forward, we were told that medical services will only be provided between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

* Between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., we were told that the only medical care available will be the emergency care that's available via EMS transport to a hospital.

* Medical staff were required to leave at 11:00 p.m. last night. Some medical staff asked lay volunteers (including us) to stay if we could to monitor the elderly and babies while they slept and identify anyone having trouble breathing and report it to the EMS worker stationed at the Dome for the purpose of making contact with an ambulance if necessary. They had an incident the night before in which a 45-day-old infant did go into respiratory distress overnight. No ambulance would be guaranteed stationed at the Dome.

* No medical supplies whatsoever, including band-aids, fever reducers, aspirin, cold & cough remedies, anti-diarrheals, insulin, glucose, etc. were to be given out until the pharmacy opened at 8:00 a.m. (unless and until the patient developed a medical emergency requiring an ambulance). This means, of course, that fevers, coughs, colds, and other ailments last longer and add to the pool of already-quickly-spreading pool of bugs going around. This is especially difficult on the very young and the very old.

* Before leaving at 11:00 p.m., the dedicated medical staff did tend to a potential tuberculosis outbreak, taking the potential patient to the hospital for testing and alerting the family and those on nearby cots that they may need to get tested. Fortunately, it appears that the patient was not suffering from tuberculosis, but some other ailment with similar symptoms. Also fortunate is that it was caught before 11:00 p.m.

* We were told by a Red Cross volunteer that all evacuees will be moved from the Astrodome and Reliant Center into Reliant Arena before the Sunday football game in Reliant Stadium, immediately adjacent to both of those buildings. Any remaining evacuees will be housed in the much cleaner, well-lit, and more easily monitored Reliant Arena. All services for evacuees will be centralized in that building. Medical services will also be housed in that building and will continue to be available during normal business hours.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Purposeful Acts of Kindness

Another night at the Dome. Kathy and I were both actually home by midnight tonight. We're meeting up tomorrow to start on our newest project -- we'll share that tomorrow as well as report on conditions at the Dome (conditions that the press "for some reason" is not able to access and report on).

But tonight, we agreed that I would report on some Purposeful (as opposed to Random) Acts of Kindness.

Our first "shout out" goes to the Harris County Sherrif's Department and the Houston Police Department for sealing off the areas we posted pictures of. We've been so focused in the medical area that tonight was the first chance we had to check those areas again. We (and the people who did not get hurt in those areas after the sealing off was completed) appreciate your response. Our apologies to both departments for not posting new pictures of your good works-- we forgot to take the camera in tonight! :)

Our second big thank you goes to those who have kept the pharmacy train running. I don't want to mention specific folks by name in case it would embarrass them, but we want to thank faculty at Albany Law School for sending two boxes of supplies and faculty at the following law schools who either individually or in pools got together to help us out: Lewis & Clark in Oregon, CUNY in New York, Nova Southeastern in Florida, Rutgers in Camden, NJ, Loyola in Los Angeles, Thomas Jefferson in San Diego, St. Johns in New York, Quinnipiac in Connecticut, Santa Clara School of Law in Santa Clara, CA, and -- of course -- our own South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas. In addition, we've received donations from several private citizens reading the blog. There's also a woman named Justine in Houston who patiently tried to track us down with a bag of supplies for two days before finally finding the law school and leaving the bag at our security desk for us. Thank you, Justine. We're currently tapped out, so if you haven't made a donation but wanted to, now's the time -- it looks like we have another week to go at the Dome.