Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
Beaumont VA Clinic Marches Together as a Team
MOBILE MEDICAL UNITS
Despite hardship, Beaumont VA clinic marches together as a team
Hurricane Harvey hovered over a large part of Texas. As the storm moved inland, it was slow, and quickly dowsed areas of the state, with record breaking rain fall. The city of Beaumont experienced much of the weather, flooding homes, businesses, and breaking down critical infrastructure.
The Beaumont VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic, part of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, has been witness to much of the storm’s destruction. The clinic closed after power interruptions and then flooding. The hardship now makes the clinic unable to safely open for patient care—but that is inside. What is happening outside is an impressive orchestrated team, continuing their mission to see Veterans, and, in this rare circumstance, non-Veteran patients.
“We are seeing everybody,” said Rachel Peery, Emergency Room Director from the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery VA Medical Center, in Jackson, Mississippi. “We are seeing women, pregnant mothers, and children, in addition to Veterans. At first, people had lots of rashes, and had been wading in water, and Veterans with wounds were infected. We had people in heart failure, others with low blood pressure; it has been a wide scope.”
VA staff caring for Veterans at the Mobile Medical Unit located at the Beaumont VA Outpatient Clinic.
The Jackson VA deployed its Mobile Medical Unit (MMU), and several staff who volunteered for the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS). DEMPS is the VHA’s main deployment program for clinical and non-clinical staff to an emergency or disaster. DEMPS personnel currently operate MMUs in Beaumont, and in other parts of Texas. The teams are prepared, and travel any distance where medical assistance is most needed.
“We saw about 60 patients yesterday, 44 today, and 47 the day before,” said Rajani Potu, acting Medical Director for the Beaumont CBOC. “The number for urgent care seems to be growing. We should receive two more MMUs next week, and we plan to operate until the clinic can be relocated. We are exploring a lot of options.”
For anyone arriving to the clinic, the amount of effort to provide health care is impressive. It’s very similar to a theatrical science fiction scene. Generators providing power, people requiring medical assistance, water stacked on pallets, the heat of a Texas afternoon, and then, there is the cheerful voice from a VA provider—“How are you, what do you need?”
The use of modern medical technology is mobile. The Veterans of Beaumont, their families, and others, have these assets and skilled staff, as their own. It’s an uplifting scene as hard-hit Beaumont picks up and recovers.
The Mobile Medical Unit caring for Veterans at the Beaumont VA Outpatient Clinic.
“I think this is wonderful,” said Joseph Matte, a Vietnam, U.S. Army Veteran. The 74-year-old experience serious burns recently, following a burst from a fire, while he was burning discarded items from his destroyed home.
“I love the people who are working here, and the people from out of town…it’s amazing,” he said. “I appreciate the VA and I am 100 percent for the VA; if there is anything I can do for the VA, I will.”
“We have seen patients from adults to children,” said Emilio Lindo, a registered nurse who normally works in primary care, at the Jackson, Mississippi, VAMC. “When they were looking for DEMPS volunteers, I raised my hand. This is very humbling. I’m just glad I can help.”
“It is hard to believe you guys are this organized,” said Marshall Paulk, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran. “You guys are pulling this together. I’m sure the logistics are difficult. I got here, and had a little bit of a wait, but there’s a lot of people here. I saw the doctor, and was taken care of. The VA is doing really good, really good.” (Editor’s Note: This Veteran lost his home and vehicle.)
The VA staff in Beaumont, and the additions from DEMPS plan to continue urgent care services, and meet routine needs. They make calls to patients with future appointments, and receive calls from Veterans who do not have the ability to travel—the phones are working.
Although, different medical teams have arrived to assist, they work together, even though they have never met. They have combined resources, and seem to speak a similar language, taking care of Veterans and providing quality health care to anyone who needs assistance. That’s what they do in Beaumont, and VA wide.
MOBILE VET CENTERS
Beaumont Vet Center offers additional VA services after the storm
Work continues, around the clock, to put the city of Beaumont, Texas, back in operation. It has been over two weeks since Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast. Improving infrastructure is a slow process; Beaumont Texans continue to feel the effects, literally rebuilding. Power is slowly coming on, and drinkable water still isn’t fully restored.
The devastation is felt city wide, and the Beaumont Vet Center is reaching out to Veterans, using the Mobile Vet Center (MVC). Following Harvey’s landfall, the MVC, in town from Little Rock, Arkansas, located next to the Mobile Medical Units (MMU) operated by health care professionals, from Texas and Mississippi.
The MMUs support medical services, since the Veteran outpatient clinic in Beaumont, cannot be safely operated, due to flooding. The MVC location is key, as hundreds of Veterans take advantage of the critical health care provided.
“We are here letting the Veterans know about the readjustment counseling services we offer and make sure they are doing okay,” said Shawna Munson, licensed professional mental health counselor, at the Beaumont Vet Center. “We are trying to connect them to different resources to help them get back on their feet.”
Much of Beaumont felt the brunt of Harvey. Businesses remain closed, and power and water is still unavailable. Vet Center staff has personally contacted all 300 Veterans enrolled in Beaumont.
“I’ve had multiple Veterans just very happy to hear someone, they know, on the other end of the conversation,” added Munson. “They are simply thankful that we are checking on them. I’ve had Veterans say how much they appreciated the call.”
Mobile Vet Center providing services to Veterans at the Beaumont VA Outpatient Clinic.
The loss experienced in Beaumont is shattering. Hundreds have lost everything, to include, automobiles and homes. So many are starting over, and the Beaumont Vet Center, covering an 11-county area, is finding many Veterans are not aware of the Vet Center and the services they provide.
“This has given us a chance to work side by side the CBOC employees and get to know them better, and for them to get to know us,” said Munson. “We are an extension of the VA, and having this opportunity to work a few feet away from the CBOC staff, they understand the Vet Center is another option for Veterans needing counseling, and assistance connecting to outside resources.”
According to Munson, the Beaumont Vet Center offers multiple group counseling services, resources for transitional assistance, financial assistance, Veterans benefits, and educational benefits.
“Pretty much anything they have questions about, we have the resource to connect them,” she said. “Following Harvey, we’ve been working with Veterans to locate different water distribution sites, making sure they are connecting with FEMA, and helping with their applications. We are trying hard to bridge the gap with all outside resources, and get the Veterans connected.”
The Beaumont Vet Center has also provided steady counseling to local Veterans visiting this enhanced site, providing multiple health care services to Veterans. The mobile units and resources made available by the VA ensures continuity of care. Several Veterans and families, have sought counseling while trying to contemplate what has happened.
The Vet Center is also concerned about Veterans and the local community, who will later process their losses. They hope all Veterans share information about the Vet Center, and take advantage of their mental health services, and other resource information.
Munson said, “It takes time to process what has happened. The Vet Center is here even after the storm.”
MOBILE CANTEEN UNIT
Veterans Canteen Service provides comfort, serving in Texas
The effects of Hurricane Harvey can be felt throughout the Texas Gulf Coast. City names like Sugarland, Pasadena, and Houston make news stories daily as residents continue to pull their homes and lives together. As a person drives east, to nearby Beaumont, escaping the devastation is impossible.
Scenes of transport vehicles hauling water logged, condensation filled vehicles, convoys of Texas power companies line the highway, with emergency lights flashing, are common. Homes visible from the interstate have mucked out; one home has the flag pole at half-staff. A church has its doors open, but the pews and other furniture are placed in the parking lot.
Much of Beaumont felt the brunt of Harvey. Businesses remain closed, and power and water still unavailable.
As Veterans and community members arrive to the Beaumont VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), they also see a scene of closure. The storm caused extensive water damage to the CBOC and it is unsafe for patients and employees. But, care hasn’t stopped. The clinic activated two Mobile Medical Units and more are on the way. Veterans and others from the community arrive seeking health care.
However; during this real-world scene of natural disaster, there is a feeling of normalcy. Nearby, employees from the Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) offer a warm meal. Nothing fancy—a hot breakfast sandwich in the morning, and hamburgers and hotdogs in the afternoon, with coffee and water also available. The VCS also has a vegetarian alternative.
Veterans Canteen Service providing refreshments to Veterans at the Beaumont VA Outpatient Clinic.
“We are here to provide comfort for the Veteran who has been placed in a crisis situation due to weather or disaster,” said James Vaughan, chief food specialist, VCS, from St. Louis, Missouri. “We also assist and provide comfort for the caregivers who are stationed out here. They are very gracious and grateful—they are thankful. We consider it a privilege to come out here and help.”
Since the VCS was established in 1946, it has provided several different services to enrolled Veterans, caregivers, and visitors. Visiting the VCS at a VA Medical Center is not unusual, but many may agree that having a Mobile Canteen, in a parking lot, following a major disaster is quite unique.
“This is great,” said Terry Smith, a U.S. Air Force Veteran. “It is times like these that bring out the best in people, and sometimes it brings out the worst. I’ve only seen the best, and this is part of the best. They don’t have to do it, and it shows me they are concerned for my wellbeing.”
Other VCS staff assisting come from New York City and West Virginia. They all feel fortunate to be in Beaumont and are witness to the difference they make, just by the expression from the Veterans and staff they serve.
“It is an exceptionally, exhilarating, position that we are in to provide service to our veterans,” said Vaughan. “We get more back than we can ever, ever give.”
The VCS’ mission incorporates a strategic Veteran-centric approach emphasizing the importance of service to Veterans and supporting VA’s overall mission—As stated by President Abraham Lincoln: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's Veterans.