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After Katrina Missteps, Texas Pushes To Get Harvey Evacuees Their Prescriptions

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
Medical supplies at an Austin shelter for Harvey evacuees at LBJ High School.

Almost exactly 12 years ago today, Texas was sheltering people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The relief effort hit a lot of snags, and relief workers learned from those snags. Now, those lessons are being applied to treating people dealing with the aftermath of Harvey.

One of the lessons is how to take care of hurricane evacuees who are separated from their medications.

Dr. Christopher Ziebell has been treating patients coming in from the Gulf Coast, as well as planning what to do if hospitals in storm-affected areas must close. As the medical director for the emergency room at Ascension’s Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, he says he’s been through this before.

This is his fourth major hurricane since he took the job, so he's learned what works and what doesn’t. He also knows to prepared for things he didn’t see coming the last time around.

“Now, we know that from Hurricane Katrina that people that have been caught up in a storm for a while often are separated from their medications," he said, "and often have health needs that are at a rate greater than the general population."

State and local officials are working to help evacuees who don't have their medications. It’s a situation that Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen says the state planned for before Hurricane Harvey made landfall a week ago.

“We've been getting contracts set up and executed with a number of different pharmacy providers,” he said. “So, at this point, it is HEB, Kroger, CVS and Brookshire Brothers that all have pharmacy units in their stores, of course. And so anybody who needs medication – whether or not you are in a shelter or whether or not you've been evacuated somewhere – if you have been affected by Harvey, you have lost your medication or you are running out of medication and you can't get back to your regular pharmacy, you can go to any of those locations.”

Van Deusen said people can present an old pill bottle, an old prescription; pharmacists can even track down a prescription for you. There are also doctors on site at shelters who can assess and write prescriptions, if needed.

In Austin, Community Care Clinics have sent out a mobile unit to help evacuees with meds. Van Deusen said the state is also working to get more providers set up to work with evacuees.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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