College of Law > Academics > Centers, Institutes & Initiatives > Mary and Michael Jaharis Health Law Institute > e-Pulse Blog > public-health-hurricane

Public Health Hurricane

Imagine reaching for your lifesaving medicine only to find it dissolved in water. The flood has surrounded your house and the pharmacy is inaccessible. Once rescued, you are brought to a hospital with no supplies and a shortage in staff, which means inadequate treatment. For some Houston residents, this was all but too real. Prescriptions and health care providers not only provide lifesaving treatments, but a mental sanity providing calm amongst the storm.

With the perilous and reoccurring weather conditions in the Atlantic, many people are thinking, what is next? What repercussions are to come? And how can we contain the multitude of epidemics? The water is now subsiding, but another type of storm is on the brink. Due to the health issues Hurricane Katrina brought the people of New Orleans, Hurricane Harvey has sparked many public-health discussions and concerns. Considering the disparity in population of Louisiana to Houston, the fear is far greater.

Concerns regarding mental health are often overlooked in today’s society, and amongst the surrounding physical and tangible spread of catastrophe, mental affairs are easy to overlook. Mental health problems are generally the most predictable problems that follow floods due to the stress and great loss that correspond. Houston professionals at their convention center must now face the queuing of patients evacuated from disaster with existing mental health conditions, in addition to new-found conditions brought on by distress of the destruction. Survivors of the storm are witnessing “psychotic breaks on the convention floor,” and others won’t dare to leave for the expedition to local pharmacies. With such shortages, a disruption in prescription drugs ensues and mental health issues worsen.

These shortages come in the form of nurses and doctors as well. Effective disaster-management is essential in time of disaster. However, doctors and nurses are working five day shifts in what is becoming known as a “military kind of operation.” With capping bed limits, hospital personnel are flooded with the reality that a bulk of patients have yet to make it to hospitals, and must expect a wave of more patients with serious care needs.

How does Houston begin to contain the multitude of epidemics? For now, teams of reinforcements are submerging the hospitals and a “ground zero” strategy for survivor shelters involves recruiting volunteers. The mental-health team at the convention center recruited volunteers to tend to anxious and upset survivors. These volunteers provide​ either a listening ear or stress-relief tactics like breathing exercises. The volunteers, first responders, and nurses work “against the odds” during emergency situations like Hurricane Harvey so, what can we do?

Beyond the increasing health concerns, the city of Houston needs supplies and aid in order to adequately help individuals with physical and mental impairments. Donating to your favorite charity, or one close to home, will help provide comfort to families and tranquility amongst fear. Facilitating the gathering of resources and supplies in your town may seem like a small gesture, but the delivery of those to health care entities, the convention center, and other relief shelters, could save a life.

Melanie Haywood is currently a second-year law student at DePaul University College of Law. Ms. Haywood graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Political Science. She is an active member in the Health Law Institute and will complete her law degree in 2019.