BRISTOL - As Tony Betz and David Murphy arrived in Rosenberg, Texas, to spend over a week before Labor Day helping victims of Hurricane Harvey, they noticed “the storm still circulating.”
Betz, an emergency medical technician, and Murphy, a paramedic operations supervisor at Bristol Hospital Emergency Medical Services, were part of the National Disaster Medical Assistance Team of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A team consists of medical personnel from all disciplines that are trained to quickly deploy to disaster sites with sufficient supplies and equipment to sustain them and rapidly provide medical care at a fixed or temporary site.
As Betz and Murphy began the 10 days helping hurricane victims in Rosenberg, Texas, which is in Fort Bend County, right outside of Houston, they “saw a lot of flooding” and “the results of where some of the water had receded.”
“We are on an on-call schedule and anytime we are on call they can activate us,” Betz said. He explained that in the afternoon of Aug. 24, they received an email from their deputy commander to pack their bags because orders were coming soon and “by that night,” they “had written orders” to ship out the next day.
When the team arrived in Dallas, it planned to take a four-hour bus ride to Fort Bend County, “so five teams loaded up in buses at 3 p.m. and didn’t get down there until 4 a.m.,” said Murphy, who has been on the team for about eight years.
“Our team is made up of providers from Connecticut, with backfill from New Hampshire, and we had three people from Texas embedded in our team,” Betz said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, communications, logistics - everyone does everything. With a DMAT team, we go into a situation and set up a field hospital.
“We went into Fort Bend Fairgrounds, where initially we were going to set up a full emergency room. When we arrived, there were 40 mph winds. Instead of setting up the actual hospital, we used some of their buildings to set up an ER, because the area hospitals had been closed down.”
First, the team had to unload boxes of medical equipment that were delivered by truck, Betz said, and “the medical providers set up the hospital the way they needed to set it up” with “all the equipment you would find in an emergency room.” Murphy added, “The only thing we didn’t have were CAT scan and X-ray machines. If they needed that, we had to ship them out.”
Murphy explained the team saw many displaced patients that it connected with a “shelter set up” near them. The first few days were the busiest and the team saw about 60 patients a day from in and out of the county, but the majority were from inside. He said, “There were a lot of people that were just homeless, or that had a home and it was filled with water and inhabitable.”
“Because all of the other hospitals were closed, we were getting ambulances bringing patients to us that we would stabilize and ship them on an ambulance or helicopter, or treat them and discharge them,” Betz said.
DMAT members can be deployed up to two weeks, but the team returned 10 days later on Sept. 3. Murphy said, “Medical centers by the third day were coming on line, so once they came on line the patients could go to their hospitals. So by the third day, our patient visits dropped, they determined no more need and we ended being shipped back to Houston.”
Lorenzo Burgio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 860-973-5088.