Newswise — HOUSTON ― Through dedicated teamwork, strategic planning and the support of its internal and external communities, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has returned to full operations and continues to provide excellent care for thousands of cancer patients, including new patients. MD Anderson also is committed assisting and supporting staff affected by Hurricane Harvey. It is estimated that at least 35 percent of MD Anderson’s 20,000-person workforce had to evacuate or experienced damage to their homes or vehicles during the storm.
To help employees in need, MD Anderson is accepting donations to its Caring Fund, which provides financial assistance to employees affected by government-declared natural disasters. As of Sept. 7, more than $250,000 has been raised, but substantial need remains. To directly support MD Anderson’s employees, visit http://www.mdanderson.org/caringfund.
“Even in the face of great difficulty, our staff remains committed to providing our patients with the best and safest care possible. This storm directly impacted the lives of our colleagues, and we are focused on doing everything we can to help get them back on their feet,” said Marshall Hicks, M.D., president ad interim. “I continue to be awed by the compassion and dedication I’ve seen across our institution these past two weeks. I have never been more proud to be a part of the MD Anderson family.”
As the storm hovered over Houston, MD Anderson activated its “ride-out” team to ensure consistent and quality care throughout for patients in the hospital. This dedicated group of nearly 1,000 employees remained on-site for several days to care for 538 patients in the hospital, 15 patients in the Emergency Center and nearly 300 family members. Teams from all areas of the institution – clinical, housekeeping, facilities, dining services, security and so many others – coordinated efforts to deliver safe, quality care despite being on an island surrounded by flood waters.
Outpatient services closed following all appointments on Friday, Aug. 25, and did not reopen until Thursday, Aug. 31, with limited services including some chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatments. The institution returned to normal staffing on Tuesday, Sept. 5, and normal operations on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
“During an average week, MD Anderson has more than 13,000 outpatient appointments, so we had an obligation to our patients to quickly and safely resume our outpatient services to continue offering each and every patient excellent care,” said Karen Lu, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer ad interim. “Our care teams were on the phones with patients throughout the storm to answer their questions and get them rescheduled as soon as possible. It was a team effort, and we proved that while the storm significantly impacted our people, we are committed to coming together to serve those who entrust us with their lives.”
Exceptional planning and teamwork also protected MD Anderson’s vast research facilities. There were no major losses of power that would have impacted research freezers, and all laboratory animals were diligently cared for by Veterinary Medicine leadership and staff on-site during the storm.
“Research is fundamental to MD Anderson’s mission and just like our patients, we were prepared to protect our science,” said Stephen Hahn, M.D., deputy president and chief operating officer. “Our teams here in Houston, as well as Bastrop and Smithville, took every precaution to maintain the highest standards possible and care for our important work.”
Given the extent of the storm’s impact on employees, MD Anderson has taken steps to ensure its people have opportunities to focus on their personal recovery – all while maintaining excellent patient care. More than 100 external supplemental staff from UT Southwestern in Dallas, Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Phoenix, OhioHealth in Columbus and Northwell Health in New York traveled to MD Anderson to offer additional support where clinical leaders indicated it was needed.
Additionally, more than 20 police officers from UT Police at Austin, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT San Antonio, UT Police at Arlington and UT System Office of the Director of Police were deployed to ensure the safety of patients and employees and provide critical support like rescue vehicle transports.
MD Anderson also is actively working to support its people through institutional programs. Throughout the storm, managers at the local level regularly checked in with their employees. Institutional polls sent via email and text allowed MD Anderson to gather important information about the storm’s impact on employees. In addition to financial support available through the Caring Fund, MD Anderson offers a variety of support services for employees and their families through its Employee Assistance Program.
MD Anderson is supporting employees in Harvey’s aftermath by offering free childcare throughout September while many schools and daycares are closed due to flooding. Additionally, the institution has coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have representatives on-site to provide one-on-one assistance to employees. Other innovative approaches, such as coordinating travel for affected employees through an agreement with the ride-sharing company Lyft, are helping employees safely return to work.
“As always, we are focused on meeting the needs of our patients and ensuring they receive MD Anderson’s excellent care. We also are amplifying our attention on our core value of Caring and making sure we go above and beyond to meet the needs of our staff,” said Carol Porter, D.N.P., senior vice president and chief nursing officer, MD Anderson. “We are hopeful that all of our efforts to add additional programs and supplemental staffing will allow our teams to take care of themselves, their families and their personal property. We are in this together, and we are MD Anderson Strong.”
As with all major events, after-action reporting is underway to learn and improve. Feedback from all stakeholders, including patients and employees, will be used to inform planning needs for future events for all areas such as facilities, communications and beyond.
“Years of planning, practicing the plan and then proactively following the storm allowed our teams to safely care for our patients, our facilities and one another,” said Matt Berkheiser, associate vice president and chief safety officer, Environmental Health Safety and Corporate Services. “There’s always much to be learned, but I am positive we can look back on this weather event and know we accomplished our objectives and did so in a caring way.”
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