Chancellor

Texans Stop for No Storm

Like you, my emotions have run the gamut over the last week – from deep concern over Harvey and its effects, to great pride in the first responders and everyday citizens who have rushed to the aid of their fellow Texans. In the midst of this tragedy, we have shown why Texas is special and how Americans from all walks of life can come together to help one another. It is truly, truly inspiring!

Blessedly, we do not think anyone in the UT community lost their life. But at this point we must presume that many of our friends and loved ones’ homes have been badly damaged. And of course, from Brownsville to Houston to Beaumont, many thousands of UT friends call southeast Texas home. So in a very real sense, whatever happens there happens to all of us.

In terms of UT institutions, UT Austin’s Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas was hit first and hardest by Harvey, while it was still a hurricane. While no UT staff or students were hurt (all had evacuated) MSI suffered extensive damage to its facilities, with many roofs blown off.

UT Medical Branch in Galveston was next in Harvey’s path, followed quickly by UTHealth and UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. You know what happened next: catastrophic flooding caused by the biggest rain event in Texas history. While none of us have ever seen 50+ inches of rain before, for more than 100 years, UT institutions have had to contend with storms – from the historic hurricane of 1900 to Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. Each storm brought hard-earned lessons, and between storms, our teams drilled, practiced, and built stronger, smarter infrastructures. 

While nobody is ever “ready” for a hurricane, UT institutions were assuredly prepared for one.

Some of you are familiar with the expression “The University of Texas stops for no storm” – the Chairman of the Board of Regents’ telegraphed response to a suggestion that UTMB close after the 1900 hurricane. I can tell you that 117 years later, that same indomitable spirit is alive, well, and on display at UTMB, UTHealth, and MD Anderson Cancer Center. To illustrate, during the storm, more than 600 patients received continuous, world-class care from 2,000 dedicated professionals at MD Anderson Cancer Center’s main hospital. And just since Friday, at least 90 babies have been born at UTMB.

As you would imagine, caring for patients while a storm rages outside is an enormous challenge. Fortunately, the damage to UT health care facilities was relatively mild. The biggest issue was, and is, staffing. The problem is two-fold. First, there are a lot of doctors, nurses, technicians, pharmacists – you name it – who cannot make it into work. Second, the women and men who were at work last Friday could not be relieved, in many cases, until Tuesday. 

Imagine the stress of working three or four days straight, unable to be with your family as your neighborhood and home were threatened by flooding. And yet in every report I have received – and I have received dozens – the women and men of UT’s medical facilities have acted with great calm, great care, and supreme professionalism throughout this ordeal. 

Though I would expect nothing less, I am still in awe and deeply, deeply grateful!

The good news on the staffing front is that with improving conditions, the “ride out teams” who were at work when the crisis began have gotten some beyond-well-deserved rest. The bad news is that with so much of the region still underwater, so many houses and cars damaged, and so many people having evacuated to parts unknown, staffing will likely be a huge challenge in the weeks and months to come. Fortunately, UT Southwestern, UT Health Northeast, and UT Health San Antonio have already stepped forward to fill critical needs.

Harvey is an “all hands on deck” moment for our system, and as you would expect our institutions wasted no time getting involved. For example, faculty from UT Health San Antonio’s Department of Emergency Medicine have deployed to one of the hardest hit areas, southeast of Houston, providing urgent medical care to residents. Meanwhile, health care teams are staffing a number of San Antonio-area shelters for the evacuees streaming west – monitoring and treating guests with chronic or acute medical conditions, and refilling prescriptions that have run out or were left behind.

The big question now is “what’s next?” As I write this, Harvey has moved east, but much of southeast Texas remains underwater. What exactly the region will look like when the waters recede is impossible to know. But from a UT perspective, one thing is certain: our neighbors and friends are going to depend on us like never before. As is true all over this great state, we are woven into the fabric of Houston, Galveston, and all of southeast Texas. We must, and we will help hold it together in this time of need.

Texas, and Texans, stop for no storm. This wonderful region – home to so many of you – will come back stronger than ever, and you can count on us to be there every step of the way.

Thank you, as always, for reading. Godspeed to you and yours.