5 thoughts from MD Anderson CMO Dr. Karen Lu on caring for patients and employees in Harvey's aftermath

Interim CMO Karen Lu, MD, has seen a fair share of natural disasters in her 18 years at Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"We've experienced several substantial natural disasters, including Hurricane Allison in 2001 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, so we know how to prepare," she says.

When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area Saturday, Aug. 26, MD Anderson had its hurricane preparations in place, and on-duty staff members were ready to ride out the storm at the facility. Major flooding in the streets around the hospital forced MD Anderson to close all outpatient services Saturday. Inside the hospital, clinicians provided continuous care for 524 patients during the storm.

MD Anderson began treating its sickest outpatients on Tuesday, Aug. 29, and resumed chemotherapy, radiation treatments and surgical services that Thursday. The hospital and its 34 outpatient clinics returned to normal operations Wednesday, Sept. 6.

Dr. Lu spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about how MD Anderson prepared for Hurricane Harvey and coordinated patient care during the storm and its aftermath. Here are five sound bites from the conversation.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

On the flooding: "After Hurricane Allison, we put up floodgates around both MD Anderson and the Texas Medical Center, which protected us from Harvey's flooding. The storm came in quickly on Saturday and substantial rainfall fell between midnight and 5 a.m. Sunday. By early Sunday morning, the streets were impassable around the hospital. The facility had some minor flooding, but none of it occurred in patient care areas or research areas."

On staffing the hospital: "We had 524 patients who were in the hospital when Harvey hit, along with about 300 family members and 800 staff members who were caring for patients. We had nurses and other employees on-site who had been through this before and anticipated the potential need of staying over at the hospital after their Saturday shift."

On caring for patients during the storm: "Our workforce has an incredible commitment to our cancer patients. During the worst part of the storm, there were many people already thinking about and coordinating how to get care to our most urgent patients. Employees were calling patients on Saturday, Sunday and Monday to reschedule appointments, so by the time Tuesday came around, we were back to normal operations and providing the care our patients needed. We treated our sickest outpatients Tuesday and Wednesday — these are the patients that need blood and plasma transfusions on a daily basis. By Thursday and Friday, we began treating some of our radiation and chemotherapy patients and performed a few surgeries."

On MD Anderson employees impacted by the hurricane: "We estimate 35 percent of our workforce had damage to their homes and cars. To help our employees, we've offered child care services and partnered with Lyft to provide transportation to and from work for employees who lost their cars in the storm. We also set up our Caring Fund to accept donations for employees affected by the flooding."

On recovering from Harvey: "A lot of people have asked us how we've been able to recover so quickly. We really brought a team of teams approach. We trusted and empowered the leaders of our clinics and work units, and shared information broadly during the storm. Houston is an incredible community and I think our parents feel that spirit at MD Anderson. Our thoughts are now with the communities in the Caribbean and Florida as they are affected by Irma."

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