HOPE works in more than 35 countries worldwide. Please enjoy our blog as we document the successes and challenges of our work to provide Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.
In the registration area of the medical clinic set up at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Rosenberg, Texas, Project HOPE volunteer Dr. Nancy R.F. Miller, a licensed mental health therapist, uses the wait time to slowly introduce herself to storm-weary patients recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
"People coming into the clinic to seek medical attention have lost everything to Hurricane Harvey,” said Dr. Miller. “As a therapist, I cannot sit behind a desk in a room and wait for people to come in to talk to me. Rather, by providing outreach, I can help facilitate the initial contact and assist in raising their comfort levels and willingness to approach me for counseling support.”
To ease the apprehension, Dr. Miller has been conducting health education sessions for everyone in the waiting room. “I talk about basic health care after a hurricane, about the water and vector-borne illnesses, the need to clean with a bleach solution and the importance of having an up-to-date tetanus shot and then I move on to talking about the effect of disasters on one’s emotional and mental health.”
Prepared with culturally sensitive brochures on coping with disasters written in several languages and an interpreter, Dr. Miller discreetly canvases the room, letting people know where she is located, if they want to come and talk.
One by one, they begin to trickle in and begin to tell their stories.
In Texas, Dr. Miller was a first-time volunteer for Project HOPE, but working in disaster situations is one of her specialties. “I responded to Haiti’s 2010 devastating earthquake, in Uganda I worked with refugees. I served after Katrina, and was part of the therapy team that provided services after the Virginia Tech shooting. Just recently, I returned from Charlottesville, Va., helping people cope after the domestic violence that occurred.”
Dr. Miller says one of the important roles of counseling after a disaster is being able to connect and refer people to other needed services. “People may have long-term mental health illnesses before a disaster strikes and disasters can intensify those illnesses,” she said. Soon after Hurricane Harvey, when Dr. Miller first arrived in Texas, a family brought their son in to see her. Their son suffered from an untreated chronic mental illness. The stress of the hurricane exacerbated his symptoms. With Dr. Miller’s help, the family was able to access the resources needed in order to receive the ongoing care that he required.
A mother of grown children visited Dr. Miller in the early days after the hurricane. Her ex-husband, a shop-owner and the father of her children, was tragically killed during the flooding in Houston while trying to protect his business. Her children were devastated by their father’s sudden death and Dr. Miller was able to provide consolation and advice to the mother on how to comfort her children through their grieving process and in the future.
Weeks after Hurricane Harvey, Dr. Miller says many of the clients are now past the acute emotional impact of the monster storm, but now other emotions are sinking in including helplessness, depression and anxiety.
“After a disaster like this, where people lose everything they own, many are feeling fatigued, irritable, confused and not able to make decisions. I attempt to provide a safe and calm environment while assessing their stability, and then they begin to tell their stories. As we progress we address the ways on how they can cope with their stress,” she said.
Disasters are taxing on children as well. “We often see regression in behaviors of children after major disasters like this one. Sometimes there is increased fighting with siblings, disturbed sleep patterns, and fear of being separated from family members. I always advise parents to reduce media watching, be more patient and try to get the children back on schedule,” she said. “For example, schools opened last week in Rosenberg providing a more normal routine for the children and families.”
In addition to helping direct survivors of Hurricane Harvey, Dr. Miller also worked with staff at the church, volunteers and other community health professionals in the area, monitoring morale, listening to their experiences and providing lunch and learn trainings. “As a disaster mental health specialist, I not only provide services to victims and families, but also work with local staff and volunteers to make sure their needs are met. I do what I can to inspire and support the workers as they assist those impacted by the disaster” she said.
“It is important to promote an individual’s resilience after a disaster. What I have noticed in the Rosenberg community, they are survivors. Many of these people just went through recovery with Hurricane Matthew last year, and other flooding earlier this year. And now Harvey. The populace we are working with in Rosenberg are Hispanic, lower income families with limited resources. When dealing with such complex trauma, I try to foster their protective factors such as the strength they receive from their faith, family and friends.”
In fact, it is the community resilience that helps inspire Dr. Miller. “This community is exceptional in the way they have just come together, turned their multipurpose room into a warehouse and set up a medical clinic. The government, private organizations, spiritual communities and NGOs are all collaborating and supporting each other as well as the community members -- it’s amazing to see,” she said.
Dr. Miller returned home this week, and as relief efforts in Texas continue, HOPE is now also responding to the devastating impact of the Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where addressing mental health needs will be an important part of overall recovery. “Physical medical care is essential after a disaster like this, but mental health is just as important. In fact, mental health is now a component of the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” she said. "There is no health without mental health. Project HOPE understands the connection and has integrated mental health into primary care of disaster response efforts."
At the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Rosenberg, Texas, those impacted by Hurricane Harvey can find a little respite.
The Church’s multipurpose room is filled with clothes, linens, diapers, kitchen supplies, cleaning materials and other essentials people need after losing everything to the monster storm that hit Texas two and a half weeks ago. But elsewhere in the church, Project HOPE has set up a clinic where survivors of Hurricane Harvey receive care for their families in the aftermath of the devastating storm.
Project HOPE volunteer, Dr. Harry Owens, or Harry as he prefers to be called, has been at the site all week long, treating anyone who shows up, filling critical lost prescriptions for chronic illnesses and sometimes just offering a little bit of comfort to the hurricane’s youngest victims.
School started up again in Rosenberg this week, a small sign of normalcy for the children in this region heavily impacted by the storm. “We have seen several families, who have lost everything - their housing, their medicines and their transportation. All they have are the clothes on their backs. They come into the church to pick up donated necessities, and also come to see me,” Harry said.
“Because school is starting back up, several people have brought their young children, children who are starting kindergarten who need to have a medical exam to go to school. We do the exams for them and fill out the school forms.”
Working with children is one of Harry’s specialties. A longtime medical volunteer for Project HOPE, including a stint on the SS HOPE in the 1970s, Harry understands the nervousness children feel when undergoing a medical exam under normal circumstances. Throw in a disaster situation, and even a routine school check-up can quickly turn teary.
“In addition to the necessities the church and community are providing to the families that need help after Hurricane Harvey, they are also handing out stuffed animals to children visiting the clinics,” Harry said.
Harry uses those stuffed animals to his advantage. “I had a 5-year-old who was hesitant for me to listen to her heart, so I instead asked her if I could listen to her unicorn’s heart,” he said. To Harry’s surprise, the young girl also wanted to hear the unicorn’s heart. “I had to admit to the girl, “I can’t really hear the unicorn’s heart, but maybe we can hear yours instead.””
The exam went well and Harry was able to give the young girl’s mother the signed medical form to present at school the next day. A small comfort for a young mother who has much heavier problems on her mind.
A family practice and emergency medicine doctor from Oregon, Harry has been on the ground in Texas for Project HOPE since August 31. “I was part of the Project HOPE advance team for the Hurricane Harvey disaster,” he said. He has already worked at several different medical locations.
“While at this point, we are not seeing many serious illnesses or medical situations, we are seeing patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure that has gone untreated because people lost their medications in the storm. We are also seeing people who have infected cuts and scratches, from wading waist deep in flood waters and we are administering lots of tetanus shots.”
Harry is working alongside other HOPE volunteers, community members and volunteers from other NGOs.
“We are not only working with patients suffering from Hurricane related injuries, illnesses, loss of medicines, we are also working alongside staff that are also going through the heartache, going through all the stress of the hurricane or worrying about their relatives who have lost their homes, he said.
“In addition to medical care, Project HOPE also offers the services of Dr. Nancy Miller, a licensed therapist who is seeing patients who are reporting heart palpitations, anxiety, not being able to sleep and other mental health stress from Hurricane Harvey.”
Harry will continue volunteering in Texas until the end of the month, but this is an experience he won’t soon forget. “These are people who have gone the through a community level stress, their community, their towns have been destroyed and damaged. Still there is so much resiliency. In fact, many of the more recent patients I have seen are actually those seeking treatment for aches and pains and cuts as they work hard and long, trying to clean out and rebuild their flooded homes. I have to remind them to slow down.”
HOPE’s disaster response team in Florida, including volunteer Dr. Kevin Blanton, a geriatric specialist, arrived in the southwest region of the state earlier this week to provide support at a shelter that is housing elderly residents and others with special needs after Irma.
Dr. Barton immediately got to work, easily integrating with shelter staff and the U.S. Public Health Service team. He is spending his days making rounds and addressing medical conditions, including dementia, as well as health and behavioral disorders and skin conditions. Dr. Blanton is also helping people manage chronic diseases exacerbated by stress and the loss of medications due to the monster storm.
“Health services at the shelter are running smoothly for the most part and there is a good, effective EMS service running where anyone requiring specialized medical intervention is taken to the hospital by ambulatory service,” said Chris Skopec, who leads HOPE’s Disaster Response Team in Florida. “But the elderly community is vulnerable in such a stressful situation after Irma and our team is here to help with that,” he said.
Thanks to your support, Dr. Blanton will continue serving affected patients in Florida to help those at the shelter transition back to their residences.
Weretaw filed this story from Houston, where he has helped manage HOPE’s response to Hurricane Harvey.
Project HOPE’s approach to disaster response reminds me of my wonderful mother from Ethiopia. She knew how to do a lot of good with the limited resources she had. With my father’s $50 monthly salary, she was able to feed, clothe and do other things for our family of nine (seven kids and my parents). Growing up in Ethiopia, and later in life, when I started earning my own money, it puzzled me how my poor mother was able to do so much with the limited sum of money she managed each month. I was not able to make ends meet with what I earned, which was substantially more than what my mother had. I concluded that my mother had no other option but to accomplish a lot with her meager resources and so she did. Simply put, she was very resourceful.
And this same sense of determination and careful calculation to achieve the most we can with the resources we have is what I have been witnessing at work with Project HOPE.
I have managed the logistics of disaster response around the world and at times we have had to achieve what seemed impossible. I have seen that Project HOPE knows how to stretch each dollar and do a lot of good with limited resources during a time of great need. I have also learned that you need more than just a fat bank account to do good in this world. Project HOPE’s response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas is a good example of this. As part of the HOPE team here in Houston and with other disasters further afield, I have learned that with good will, a smart plan and resourcefulness, we can accomplish a great deal -- people’s health issues can be addressed, health workers can gain knowledge, medicines can be administered and people struggling in a crisis can be heard.
It all comes from a desire to make a difference. It comes from good will and a desire to serve others.
Since I joined Project HOPE two years ago, I have been part of the team that responded to the earthquake in Ecuador, Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and now Hurricane Harvey in Texas. What I’ve come to understand is that, like my mother in Ethiopia, somehow Project HOPE has figured out how to make each dollar count and find ways to partner with other NGOs to help achieve what might seem impossible. When I see the number of lives touched and transformed by what Project HOPE is doing here in Houston and around Houston, I come back to my original question: “How can someone do such a lot of good, when there are so many needs, despite resource limitations?”
For more than 20 years I worked for large-scale global organizations with access to significant resources. They are also doing a lot of good for humanity, but what makes Project HOPE’s disaster response approach unique and intriguing is the organization’s ability to impact so many lives with health services provided by HOPE volunteers who never tire of this work, finding ways and partners to fix a problem at a clinic or hospital – all of this while making every dollar count. I am of the opinion that just as my mother figured out how to create miracles with so little, Project HOPE has figured out how to do the same thing.
A timely intervention by a Project HOPE volunteer working in the Hurricane Harvey disaster zone might just have saved a life today.
Lindsey Ryan-Martin, a nurse practitioner from Massachusetts General Hospital saw a patient at the San Jose Clinic in Rosenberg, Texas.
A routine check showed the patient’s blood pressure was very elevated and required immediate attention.
“Stress levels are high after a disaster like Harvey and some patients we see have high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses but have lost their medicines when their homes flooded. For patients who have a history of high blood pressure, or hypertension, we are concerned because this is a very serious condition. It’s called “the silent killer” because it typically has no symptoms until after it has done significant damage to the heart and arteries," said Lindsey.
"I was glad we could help this patient get the care she needed to address this serious illness.”
For many in this small Texas town, including Lindsey’s patient, access to health care isn’t easy. An emergency like this patient’s severe hypertension becomes complicated very quickly. Some in the community don’t have the documentation required at most clinics and will not seek treatment for serious conditions.
HOPE’s nurse practitioner made a lifesaving difference for this patient because she recognized the importance of the problem and acted rapidly. With the proper emergency care, the patient’s blood pressure was lowered into a normal range and the patient received a supply of medication to replace the medicines lost in the flood.
Project HOPE has over a dozen medical volunteers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists and mental health professionals, who are working hard to provide health services for vulnerable groups affected by Harvey. Health services include crucial tetanus immunizations, treatment for chronic illnesses, mental health services, and HOPE is also supplying hundreds of hygiene kits to help protect against the poor sanitation conditions that are a result of widespread flooding.
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