Help for Houston: Alexandrians pitch in to help victims of Hurricane Harvey

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Dr. Vivek Sinha, who is based in Old Town, assisted with the medical response in Houston (Courtesy Photo)

By Denise Dunbar and Alexa Epitropoulos

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, more than 1,100 members of the federal National Disaster Medical System were deployed to Houston to help provide care to the injured and
sick.

Among their ranks was Alexandria doctor Vivek Sinha, who runs Belleview Medical Partners in Old Town. Sinha joined DMAT about six years ago after taking an unusual path into medicine.

“I used to be a firefighter for many years, then went to medical school. I was always looking for ways to take health care out of the office,” said Sinha, whose Alexandria practice operates under a concierge, home-visit structure.

Sinha is a civilian who has never been in the military, but when he or fellow team members are deployed, they become federal employees and as such, the doctors are authorized to practice in all 50 states. The system operates much like military reserves.

There are around 5,000 DMAT members around the country, which includes doctors, nurses, EMTs and pharmacists. Sinha belongs to MD1, based in Maryland and composed of about 50 people from around the region.

Teams can be deployed as an entity, or they can be used to fill in the ranks of other units.
Sinha was part of a team that was pre-positioned in Dallas on Aug. 25 in anticipation of Harvey’s arrival and initially provided medical screening to first responders.

“I was then deployed with a California team and we went and set up a … team field hospital at a large stadium,” Sinha said. “We were there pretty early. We were the first wave of deployments.” The type of medical cases seen by on-ground personnel will vary according to when the relief team arrives, he said.

“What we were seeing was the consequences of hospitals being shut down,” Sinha said.
“We saw a lot of people who needed dialysis, who needed chronic medical care that they would have gone to their doctor or hospital for. You compound that with wading through muddy floodwaters, and you see heart failure patients and those with infections. That’s what you see at the beginning.”

DMAT teams are typically deployed for two weeks and Sinha returned to Alexandria on Saturday. He said the next teams that cycle in will be dealing with a different set of issues.
“There’s a huge mental health component to this,” he said. “Imagine any medical condition that doesn’t have access to care over time.

Conditions become worse.” Sinha said he was impressed with how prepared state and local authorities in Texas were to deal with the disaster.

“I was completely blown away by the way Texas took care of Texas. Such a large need … Texas as a whole has an impressive infrastructure,” he said. “I told my neighbor, who is from Texas, ‘I can’t believe how amazing your state is.’ Their healthcare infrastructure is so strong.”

Sinha said that, as of Tuesday, DMAT had provided care to more than 3,800 patients in Texas and Louisiana in the aftermath of Harvey.

Local churches and businesses pitch in

Several Alexandria churches and businesses have held fundraisers or supply drives to benefit those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Elizabeth Lucchesi, a member of First Baptist Church of Alexandria and a realtor at Long and Foster, is helping with a “bucket list” aid project that’s conducted through Virginia Baptist Disaster Response.

“We are filling up a tractor trailer at First Baptist Church with buckets full of supplies and sending it down to Houston to be distributed by Baptist churches down there,” Lucchesi said.

The buckets are full of supplies to help people clean up their homes after floodwater recedes. Lucchesi said a member of her Long and Foster LizLuke team will drop off the orange buckets with supply lists for people who want to participate or take donations and purchase the supplies with the funds.

“One hundred percent of money donated to this goes directly to buy supplies,” she said.

VIP Pet Salon hosted a fundraiser on Saturday to benefit Hurricane Harvey (Photo Credit: Joann Schittulli)

After Harvey struck the Houston area, VIP Pet Salon owner Guzal Adekoje and groomer Sarah Droun quickly organized a fundraiser that was held in Old Town on Saturday. The event raised money through a dog grooming competition and sent the proceeds to the Houston Humane Society.

Adekoje said any effort is worthwhile during Houston’s recovery.

“During hard times like this, I don’t know how you couldn’t help,” Adekoje said. “Every single penny, every single dollar matters and very often people want to donate, but they think that one dollar might not make a difference. Sometimes people have to be motivated to help.”

Adekoje and Droun were motivated to donate to the humane society after seeing news coverage that featured photos of dogs and cats swimming through flood zones. Their personal experience also made them keenly aware of how vulnerable domestic animals are during natural disasters.

“We know from personal experience that it takes a lot of effort and finances to help dogs,” Adekoje said.

“We wanted to help with animals because everyone who is contributing and helping out with the shelters are running low on resources. The shelters are running out of space,” Droun said.

In all, the small business raised $180 through the fundraiser and matched that donation by contributing $180 themselves.

“So many people are helping and it was just kind of a no brainer to contribute,” Droun said.

Here are some ways to contribute for Hurricane Harvey victims:

  • Food banks are asking for nonperishable staples like canned meat and dry goods, as well as cleaning supplies; the Houston Food Bank, Southeast Texas Food Bank in Beaumont, Central Texas Food Bank, Galveston County Food Bank, Food Bank of the Golden Crescent and Corpus Christi Food Bank all accept online donations. See the Houston Press’s list of names and contact information for more food banks here.
  • The Houston Food Bank announced Wednesday that is was open and ready to start distributing supplies to those affected by the flood. The food bank also emphasized the need for volunteers, who would be used to inspect and sort food and repack dry food, among other things.
  • Donate food or cash to food banks in your area. Or you can donate to Feeding Texas, a network of food banks across the state. Find your local food bank here.
  • You can also open your home to disaster victims through Airbnb, or by posting on this Facebook group.
  • If you’re in San Antonio, you can sign up to host Harvey victims through the Jewish Federation.
  • Make a cash or diaper donation to the Texas Diaper Bank, which is providing emergency diaper kits to displaced families. The Austin Diaper Bank is also accepting cash or diaper donations to distribute to Harvey victims.
  • The Austin Disaster Relief Fund is calling for 6,000 welcome kits.
  • Donate cash or supplies for children with complex medical needs to Little Lobbyists.
  • If you’re in Dallas, you can bring cleanup supplies to Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church on Saturday.

Make a donation

  • Several local and national organizations are collecting donations for general disaster relief efforts, including the United Way, Americares, Salvation Army, Save the Children, Catholic Charities USA, United Methodist Committee on Relief, SBP,Global Giving, Direct Relief, Heart to Heart and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.  Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has set up a flood relief fund, backing the effort with his own $100,000 donation.
  • Habitat for Humanity – https://www.habitat.org/impact/our-work/disaster-response/hurricane-harvey
  • Donate here to sponsor families in the Golden Triangle area of Texas (Chambers, Hardin, Jefferson, Newton, Orange and Tyler counties).
  • Gofundme has curated a list of Harvey relief efforts, with fundraisers for individual cities, families and homes.
  • Individuals and corporations can donate to hurricane relief efforts through the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
  • The State of Texas Agriculture Relief fund (STAR fund) is collecting private dollars to help Texas farmers and ranchers recover from Hurricane Harvey.
  • You can support Houston’s undocumented communities affected by the floods by making a donation here.
  • Help teachers in affected school districts rebuild their classrooms. Teachers of Tomorrow, a Texas education organization, started a relief fund for educators affected by Harvey.
  • Help LGBTQ flood victims through the Montrose Center.
  • Donate to the Texas Workers Relief Fund to aid working families in crisis.
  • You can help Hurricane Harvey victims by texting HARVEY to 90999 to give $10 to the Red Cross (or by visiting RedCross.org to give any other amount).
  • The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, established by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, is accepting donations for flood victims.