A nursing home patient is carried to safety at the Port Arthur Little Theatre on Aug. 30, 2017

A nursing home patient is carried to safety at the Port Arthur Little Theatre on Aug. 30, 2017

Volunteers evacuate nursing homes after Harvey floods

Hundreds of boats lined up down Jimmy Johnson Boulevard in Port Arthur, filled with men from all over the Southern United States ready to save the hundreds of elderly patients trapped inside the Cypress Glen and Lake Arthur Place nursing homes, Aug. 30. Among the rescue missions in Southeast Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, this one gained local and national attention.

“I was definitely not prepared for what we walked into, I don’t think anyone was,” Tyler (who asked for his last name to be withheld), a Groves resident who was out in his boat assisting Port Arthur residents, said. “It was extremely sad. Some of the people were just sitting in their wheelchairs, not knowing what was happening. The socks on their feet soaked in the brown water that was filling the nursing homes.”

The two homes are on the same street and operated by the same parent company, Senior Care Centers.

Tyler said that upon entering the facilities, rescuers were met by some of the building’s employees who told the would-be rescuers to turn around, and that they were violating the residents’ privacy and HIPAA laws. The employees also told the volunteers that they were working with the government to help evacuate residents.

However, as flood waters continued to rise, family members of the patients angrily took to social media which eventually led to the rescue of all the residents by local volunteers with boats.

Nursing Home evacuation.jpg_et“It was dark in the buildings when you walked in, and the smell hit everyone like a truck”Tyler said. “Some of the poor men were in just their diapers, or naked, laying in their own feces and urine.

“But we lifted every one of them into boats, some in their wheelchairs and some even on mattresses so that they would have a place to lay later.”

When Harvey’s rains subsided,Tyler and many of his friends and family, as well as others from all over the area, took their aluminum boats and began rescuing people, when they heard from family members that there was an urgent need for help getting patients out of the nursing homes.

There were an estimated 70 residents at Cypress Glen alone.

After the patients were evacuated from the building, they were taken by boat about a half a mile to the Port Arthur Little Theatre, where hundreds of medical trained volunteers were waiting.

Groups of volunteers brought medical equipment, blankets, food and plastic bags to cover the patients’ feet to avoid them from getting soaked again.

Eventually, the Texas National Guard arrived on scene.

Some patients had not been fed or taken their medications in 24 hours, others were not rescued with their paper work and there was difficulty finding out who they were and what their illnesses were. Sitting in the cold water caused feet and legs to swell, and some were close to hypothermia. Many were emotionally distressed and confused.

For the majority of the day, volunteers ran all the rescues and aid to the patients. Some, who had lost their own homes and belongings, still wanted to lend a hand or a boat.

Louis Husser, a pastor from Robert, La., who joined the nursing home rescue with his 14-foot aluminum boat, said it wasn’t hard to decide to come.

“I lived through Hurricane Katrina, and in some ways this is worse,” he said. “It’s going to take Texas a long time to come back from this. When we were in trouble 12 years ago, Texans came down to help, and so we are just loving our neighbor back.”

While rescuers were overwhelmed with relief seeing the hundreds of elderly men and women taken to safety by military helicopter, the images they saw will forever be etched into their minds. Many volunteers broke into tears after the patients were all evacuated.

“I stayed with one man for the majority of the time after we were done getting them onto boats,” Harrison (who asked for his last name to be withheld), who was with Tyler, said. “He was a great older man, and was very patient. He didn’t complain once. We talked the entire time and I didn’t leave his side. He was the very last person to be loaded onto the helicopter that day, and when I got him all loaded up he said, ‘I want you to come with me’ — that really made me choke up. I wish I could call him to see how he is doing.”

Patients were transferred by military helicopter and ambulances all across the state to multiple hospitals and nursing homes. However, many evacuees were without documents or papers. Some patients are still being located by the nursing home staff because of the confusion.

Tyler said the residents in the nursing homes were happy to evacuate with the volunteers.

“I was thanked numerous times by patients, some were just lying there in their beds alone until we arrived,” he said. “Something needed to be done, and it had to be done soon.”

Elisabeth Tatum, UP staff writer

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