Health Issues Stack Up In Houston As Harvey Evacuees Seek Shelter
Before the storm hit, Harris County Public Health sent out a number of messages warning residents of to avoid hazards presented by flood waters: downed power lines, sewage contamination, rusted nails and the possibility of critters in the water — everything from snakes to spiders to alligators.
Now that people are showing up in shelters, efforts are turning to helping people with both health issues arising from the flood — including respiratory and gastrointestinal problems — and with getting care for preexisting conditions, some of which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
"That doesn't even obviously take into account the numerous injuries and the mental health issues that all come into play. So it's a very complicated response system," Shah tells All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro.
Burch has heard from people who, before the storm, already suffered from chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and other illnesses. "Some people haven't been on their medications for a few days," she says. "So there's a lot of stress just being here, and then the extra mental health needs that arise in the midst of this [are] also very challenging."
Among the more pressing medical issues is getting treatment to the sizeable population of people on dialysis.
DaVita, a leading provider of dialysis services nationwide, says the company normally serves approximately 6,700 patients in Houston. About a third of their 100 or so centers in the city remain open for all patients who need dialysis, according to Chakilla Robinson White, who oversees operations at DaVita's dialysis centers in Texas and neighboring states.
Gail Torres, senior clinical communications director for the National Kidney Foundation, says forgoing dialysis treatment for even a day can be extremely dangerous, particularly to the heart.
"Certain toxins can build up, but most importantly, potassium and fluid can affect the heart," she says. "If you have a buildup of potassium, depending on what their baseline is, it can send them into cardiac arrest."