Although the storm is over, there’s still danger looming for Houston area residents as the massive cleanup after Hurricane Harvey begins. No one knows this better than Dr. Mark Prete, Hartford HealthCare vice president of specialty care.
Dr. Prete, an emergency physician by training and a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, leaves for Texas Saturday to serve on an all-hazards regional support team that will provide guidance in the areas of aviation medicine, biological, chemical, environmental and other risks facing the public and National Guard personnel helping in the cleanup and recovery.
“From what it appears,” says Dr. Prete, “they’re setting up huge numbers of shelters and a few large temporary acute-care facilities for patients who have been transported from nursing homes. That can be a complicated process.”
Prete, an army veteran who served in a combat hospital in Iraq in 2011 and has worked in recovery efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, will be joined by colleagues from the Massachusetts Air National Guard and Army National Guard, including a biological engineer, a planning and public health expert and a veterinarian advising Emergency Operations Command about risks faced in the cleanup.
With an abundance of oil refineries and chemical plants, there is no shortage of potentially dangerous situations there, Prete says. Prete, who serves as the flight surgeon for the 104th Fighter Wing based in Westfield, Mass., says people with chronic health conditions and first responders face serious health concerns days and even weeks after the storm has passed.
“My experience is that there aren’t as many traumatic injuries related to the hurricane,” says Dr. Prete. “The danger is related to events that happens a day or a week later for people with chronic illness who don’t have power, oxygen , and medications. That can cause much more of a negative impact on someone’s health.”
Prete will also be lending his assistance in ensuring safety for patients transported out of Houston by air.
“There are aspects of flying by Medevac [transport by military plane or helicopter] that are quite different than flying commercially especially for people with certain conditions,” says Dr. Prete.