Calls to the UT Physicians Nurse Triage Center skyrocketed during the recent winter weather event, which covered Houston in a blanket of snow, sleet, and subfreezing temperatures for several days.
Despite losing power and water themselves, a team of dedicated nurses powered through the cold days and frigid nights to field inquiries from patients with a collection of worries ranging from how to stay warm in their homes to obtaining medication refills, and even concerns over missing their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“On a typical day, we usually receive between 900 and 1,000 calls,” said Robin Riggs, MSN, RN, senior nurse manager of the Nurse Triage Center. “The volume continued to build each day throughout the storm, and by Wednesday, Feb. 17, we had fielded nearly 2,500 calls.”
Riggs, who was without power for 40 hours, no access to the internet, and limited cell service for several days herself, was incredibly grateful to her assistant nurse manager, Lauren Cantu, RN.
“She demonstrated amazing leadership to bring the team together to accomplish our mission of taking care of patients,” she said.
Cantu was just one of the many heroes who stepped up during the recent winter weather crisis. Elvia Gomez, RN, BSN, RNBC, in the Nurse Triage Center, took calls from people who were anxious and scared.
“We had elderly patients running out of oxygen and needing more,” said Gomez. “There were families with children seizing who required emergency care right away. It was heartbreaking listening to parents as they made decisions on how to navigate the icy roads in the middle of the night.”
Like many Houstonians, patients calling into the Nurse Triage Center weren’t sure how to stay warm in the chilly temperatures. Nurses not only provided reassurance, but tips on how to keep warm and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Lydia Mathew, RN, with the Nurse Triage Center, was taking calls while also taking care of her extended family. She took in her brother’s family with a 15-month-old and a newborn, as well as her cousin’s family who had two feet of water in their home due to a broken pipe.
“What I found the most rewarding during the past few incredibly challenging days was the opportunity to provide comfort and a sense of security and safety to my fellow Houstonians,” said Mathew. “While enduring freezing temperatures inside my home, talking to others who were in far worse conditions gave me a new perspective on why we do what we do and how we all come together to be #HOUSTONSTRONG.”
According to Riggs, stepping up during a natural disaster is nothing new for the Nurse Triage Center.
“We saw the same resilience and teamwork of these amazing nurses in response to Hurricane Harvey and the winter storm in 2018. Despite any personal hardships they may be facing, they are consistently putting the needs of patients first, and they never cease to amaze me.”