Texas Hospitals Leveraging Social Media Amidst Hurricane Aftermath

The strain placed on health systems that have remained open has staff working long hours. Many hospitals have been turning to social media in search of reprieve.

Rain may soon, and finally, move out of the Texas regions impacted by Hurricane Harvey, but relief efforts will be ongoing for months or years. The storm has dropped record rainfall and disabled institutions of all sorts, hospitals included.

The strain placed on health systems that have remained open has staff working long hours. Many hospitals have been turning to social media in search of reprieve.

One post spread via the social media channels of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) asks on behalf of Texas health systems for nurses registered to work in the neonatal intensive care unit “to help provide relief to those who have been working countless hours since Hurricane Harvey made landfall last Friday.”

The group indicates that local hospitals are already mobilizing nurses into Dallas and Austin and intend to bring them into the hardest hit areas of Houston and Corpus Christi as the flood waters recede. The post has been shared over 13,000 times on Facebook alone.

An obstacle for nurses looking to work out-of-state is licensure, so the post specifies that the process will be easier for nurses in one of 25 states in a licensure compact. However, it emphasizes that nurses in other states have the option of receiving emergency licensure if they want to help.

Although HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, has declared a public health emergency in Texas and Louisiana, this declaration does not waive provider licensing requirements, which are determined by states. According to an announcement from the Texas Board of Nursing, a disaster licensing procedure has been put in place to respond to the hurricane. Nurses from states not in the compact must complete an application and e-mail or fax it to the Board in order to receive a temporary license.

Overburdened health systems in Texas are leveraging their connections to spread word to potential volunteers. For instance, Stephen Jones, Jr, is CEO of the Bay Area Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas, and is also the son of Stephen Jones, the former president and CEO and current chief academic officer of RWJ Barnabas, New Jersey’s largest healthcare system.

A bulletin posted by the New Jersey State Nurses Association (NJSNA) implores nurses to fly down to Texas for 1 or 2 weeks to fill in at the Bay Area Regional Medical Center, which is seeking 90 volunteer nurses (30 each for the intensive care unit, emergency department, and medical/surgical unit). The 150-bed hospital on the Texas coast wants extra hands on deck “to give their staff some relief,” according to the post on the NJSNA’s website as well as its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The hospital will “be happy if [volunteers] can stay the week, ecstatic if they can stay two weeks,” the post states. It also specifies that nurses only need to bring their regular license and will be covered by malpractice insurance. Expenses and travel will be covered, but there is no salary. A private jet leaves from New Jersey on Thursday morning to carry any willing nurses to the disaster area.

Early Wednesday afternoon, the NJSNA announced that due to "the overwhelming response to the call for nurses in Texas," there is currently no additional need for nurses to volunteer. Its tweet ended with an observation that "Nurses are awesome!"

Nurses who cannot leave for Texas can still help in other ways. An article posted on allnurses.com, a nursing community forum, encourages concerned nurses to donate to disaster relief charities like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army Disaster Relief.

“Tag your nursing buddies to get the word out,” the post urges readers. “Let’s do what we do best and make an amazing difference in these Texans’ lives.”

A version of this story originally appears in the American Journal of Managed Care.