How Houston’s LBJ Hospital Served its Patients and Community During Hurricane Harvey
May 23, 2019
As executive vice president and administrator, Alan Vierling, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FABC, led Harris Health System’s Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Hospital through Hurricane Harvey during August 2017. Vierling shared key takeaways and lessons learned from that experience during HAP’s Leadership Summit.
Hurricane Harvey was a devastating four-day weather event that dumped 40 inches of rain on the Houston area. The roads surrounding LBJ Hospital were flooded with six feet of water. The hospital managed more than 250 leaks during the storm.
Despite these conditions, LBJ Hospital operated continuously throughout the hurricane, with 546 emergency department visits, 1,065 inpatient days, more than 100 dialysis procedures, and 17 surgeries.
Vierling stressed the importance of planning year-round to be ready, so that when disaster threatens you can “trust the training” and the staff who you have been designated and vetted to serve during rescue, ride-out, and recovery phases. Employee experiences beyond work lives, such as in the military and outdoors, as well as the ability to innovate, problem solve, and “think on your feet” are important qualities to look for when creating emergency teams.
Once a disaster response is underway, make decisions once and move on without second-guessing. Adjust and make improvements as you go.
LBJ Hospital is the busiest level III trauma center in Houston. A safety net hospital, LBJ serves a diverse community. Most of LBJ's patients are at or below the federal poverty level. LBJ plays a crucial role in its community that only grew more important during Hurricane Harvey. In addition to patients and staff, the hospital sheltered 180 people, seven dogs, and a cat.
“When you are in a crisis, you’re not a hospital,” said Vierling. You are the answer to every community problem.”
Vierling also stressed the importance of listening to, and working to manage, staff morale and emotional well-being. During Harvey, staff were heroes—but also victims, worried about the health and safety of family members.
Frequent communications were crucial to understanding and responding to staff fears and exhaustion. A dedicated communicator monitored social media to gain insight into what the hospital family was feeling, thinking, and worried about. Emails, employee hot lines, and digital signage all helped share information and address questions and rumors.
Vierling’s experience and takeaways resonated with HAP Emergency Preparedness staff, who help Pennsylvania hospitals prepare for and respond to emergencies.
For more information about emergency preparedness, contact Mark Ross, HAP’s vice president, emergency preparedness.