Mental and physical, evacuee health issues are among the latest problems in Houston’s Hurricane Harvey shelters

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As thousands of evacuees arrive in shelters across Southeast Texas, they often trade one emergency for another.

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While they escaped the rising waters and its accompanying hazards, they often are forced to do so without access to the medications and treatments they need to manage their health issues.

With shelters frequently running in short supply of necessities, such as food, water and blankets, these sites struggle to help those with chronic physical and mental health issues.

Dr. Umair Shah, Executive Director of the Harris County Public Health system, addressed the first thing to do for patients with health care needs in an interview with National Public Radio:

“The first and foremost thing that everybody’s concerned about is just getting folks out of harm’s way with the flood waters.”

However, Dr. Shah also recognized the need to care for evacuees’ health after their harrowing ordeals from the storm and their escape.

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Previously working with shelters in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she recognizes how lessons from the 2005 disaster are carrying over into how health care workers are addressing the issues of evacuees from Harvey, including mental health issues like anxiety or schizophrenia:

“We actually had to fan into the shelter to identify ourselves (patients with) mental health issues,” Shah recalled further. “That’s a big component and something we’re also mindful of now.”

Shelters must also deal with evacuees with chronic health issues, such as diabetes.

DaVita, a kidney dialysis center company, reported only one-third of their facilities were open in the storm-stricken area, announcing they would work with patients to provide transportation to dialysis centers for those in need.

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However, patients who go without dialysis for a day can develop severe symptoms.

Gail Torres, senior clinical communications director for the National Kidney Foundation, said in an interview patients who experience a buildup of potassium or fluids can go into cardiac arrest.

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