Miriam Estrada, a research data coordinator in Head and Neck Surgery, was watching TV with her husband the night Hurricane Harvey reached Houston, unaware that their street had turned into a river and their backyard was filling with water.
So when water started coming into the house, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Within a couple of hours, the water was 4 feet deep inside her home.
“All my belongings were floating, and my dog was having to swim,” Estrada says.
They made it to a neighbor’s two-story house and waited without food for two days before they were rescued. They had no car, no house and very little clothing, but all Estrada could only think about was the patients participating in a study she managed.
“I needed to be there to help them continue treatment, but I didn’t know how I could get to them,” she says.
As word began to reach MD Anderson’s Incident Command team that many employees had stories similar to Estrada, leaders from Human Resources, Facilities, UT Police and Clinical Operations began mobilizing.
“We wanted to put together as many resources as possible and then see what was needed,” says Shibu Varghese, senior vice president for People and Business Operations. “It turns out we needed all of them.”
Among the resources made available to employees:
Pay: No employee missed a paycheck due to the disaster, and those who worked during the ride-out received a stipend.
Caring Fund: More than $1 million has been raised for this financial assistance program, which offers $1,000 grants to eligible employees displaced from their homes.
Lyft: Employees who lost vehicles in the flood could get free transportation to and from work during a transitional period after the storm.
Bright Horizons: On-site daycare was provided for 188 children of employees during the week that most Houston-area schools were closed. The company also waived employee co-pays for in-home or center-based child and elder care.
FEMA: Two days of on-site, one-on-one consultations were set up in partnership with UT Health to assist employees who needed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help them sort through resources and benefits available from the federal government.
And the support continues.
“It’s going to be a long process, and we want people to know that they’re not alone in rebuilding their homes and their spirits,” Varghese says.
Making a difference
Estrada is grateful for the services that have allowed her to find some normalcy. A month after the storm, her home was gutted and drying out as she and her husband waited for insurance, waited for FEMA – waited for her home to become her happy place again.
She feels fortunate that she hasn’t had to wait to return to work.
“When my department told me about the Lyft service, I cried because I was so relieved,” Estrada says.
Estrada also applied for financial assistance through MD Anderson’s Caring Fund and met with FEMA when they were on-site.
“I feel blessed to work for an institution and a department that shows how much it cares about its employees,” says Estrada.