BY: DR. ALISON TARLOW, CLINICAL DIRECTOR, HOLISTIX TREATMENT CENTERS
The threat of a hurricane always instills a great many emotions in the residents of South Florida. After all, many of us remember living through Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when the Category 5 storm wiped out many parts of South Miami and resulted in the displacement of thousands of people whose homes had been blown away. Then, in 2005, just as we watched Hurricane Katrina devastate parts of Louisiana, we braced for Hurricane Wilma, a late-season, Category 3 storm that resulted in damage and power outages that would grind many areas of South Florida to a halt for up to 3 weeks. Anyone living in Florida now knows well-enough that any mention of a storm path nearing us is cause for alarm. When, on Labor Day Monday, September 4th, the newscasters began to emphasize the powerful threat of a Category 5 storm, it was time to take action.
When Substance Abuse Professionals Go Above and Beyond
Working in Substance Abuse Treatment is not a 9 to 5 job. On the contrary, we understand the emergent nature of our jobs, and for many of us, it is better described as a dedicated way of life. We work to help our clients help themselves, and these are not treatment goals that come about solely during office hours Monday thru Friday. By Tuesday, our clinical team gathered after our usual morning staff meeting, and discussed our concerns regarding the clients and the storm. Immediately, our Director of Operations, together with our CEO and myself, met to put an emergency plan in place.
One of our most serene, and picturesque aspects of our treatment program are the residences that are located right on the Atlantic Ocean. A client can wake up in the morning and look at the ocean. The sea breezes beckon, and the salty air tingles on the skin. However, when a storm is approaching, this beautiful safe-haven becomes an evacuation zone. There is no telling how high the tide will come in, and storm surges are not uncommon in a hurricane. Because many of us have lived in South Florida all our lives, we know that an oncoming storm means mandatory evacuation orders, and therefore we needed to have a plan ready for the safety of our clients.
How To Prepare A Drug Rehab For A Hurricane
The first order of business was to secure hotel rooms that were in-land, and in safe buildings. Then, we were ready to order cases of water, as well as plenty of food to sustain our clients for at least a week. We needed to send our behavioral health techs out to fuel up all four of our vehicles, and then we needed to do the most important job: explain to our clients what was going to happen. Many of our clients come from throughout the United States, and so while our clients may have experienced different types of natural disasters, most had never been through a hurricane.
The clients were given as much information as we had, and we also were able to call all our clients’ families to ensure them of our plan for safe relocation. We then had to work tirelessly to help our clients pack up their belongings from our beach-side residences, so that all their personal items were held in a safe location away from risk of flood waters. The clients were also asked to pack up enough “essentials” to last for about 5 days, so that we could move them to the safe location away from the storm surge. While we were doing all of this, our administrative staff were printing out hard copies of documents, ordering medication supplies to last 2-3 weeks (just in case), and we were also securing our electronic equipment and computers.
Between Tuesday morning, when we first leapt into action, and Thursday afternoon, when the mandatory evacuation order had begun, it was a whirlwind. Not only did we need to ensure the safety of our clients, but we also had families of our own, and homes that needed safeguarding. I can honestly say that, in times like this, we are so blessed to have the team of employees that work at Holistix. Everybody was able to get their homes and families situated, while we were simultaneously able to care for our clients, calm their fears, communicate with their families, and relocate to an inland property. Everyone worked together, seamlessly.
An Exceptional Addiction Treatment Staff
By Thursday evening, all the clients were safely situated, and we had our “hurricane staff” in place. These were staff members who volunteered to baton down the hatches with our clients, to ensure their safety and also to ensure that they were still able to get their clinical and medical needs met. These staff, whether Masters level clinicians or behavioral health technicians, all came together and worked as a team, with no task being too big or too small. It was teamwork at its finest. Staff took dayshifts and nightshifts, and managed the clients so that they were able to feel safe and comfortable until the storm had passed.
On Monday evening, the clients were able to return to one of the beach-side residences. Our women’s residence had not lost power, and had experienced only minimal aesthetic damage. However, our men’s residence was not as fortunate. The damage was minimal to our building, but downed-powerlines on the street had knocked out power for what was going to be several days. Once again, our staff and clients rallied, and the women doubled up in their rooms, making a whole floor of the building available for the men to move in. Staff and clients came together to tidy up, cook together, and hold meetings together. Even the Clinical Director came to the residence and took on the broom and a garbage bag, to sweep up the sand and gather the tree branches that were unceremoniously covering the patio and pool area. Clients were able to contact their families to assure them that they were safe and sound, and that they would be continuing on with their treatment. Staff worked around the clock to tidy up both the residences and the treatment center, so that clients could return to normalcy within a day or so.
Holistix Beat Hurricane Irma with Teamwork
By Tuesday morning, the clinical building was still in need of some TLC, so the team of employees divided up – half to clean-up and restoration, and the other half to the residence to bring meetings and groups to the clients. Our Program Nurse headed to the residence to tend to any medical issues, and the Clinical Director found a 12-step meeting that was open. Our clients were telling us they could not wait to get to a meeting, so we made it happen. We explained that the meeting would have no power, which meant possibly 85 degree heat, as well as very little lighting. The clients voiced their enthusiasm …..it did not matter the environment, they just wanted to go to a meeting and felt grateful for being sober and being safe. We found a 9.30am meeting, and took the clients there. The room was not filled with people, but it was welcoming, and our clients were just happy to be there. They read, they shared, and one client even picked up his 30-day key-tag! Later that day, after having some process groups with the clients, we took a walk along the beach, and they were able to see mother-nature in all its glory. The ocean was a clear turquoise blue – which is somewhat unusual for this particular stretch of beach by our property. The waves were fierce, which was also unusual for South Florida. It was the perfect opportunity to look at nature and understand what it means to have a power greater than ourselves. It was a beautiful and yet powerful sight to behold. The sky was clear blue, and the turquoise ocean waves cascaded into perfect white crests. Whether native Floridian or client from Iowa, it was impossible not to experience the gift and the beauty of the ocean, and the gratitude for coming through this angry storm, and being okay, or maybe even better than okay. And being grateful.
By Wednesday, all treatment had returned to normal operation. Our center was up and running as usual, and our clients were able to return for their regularly scheduled groups. By this time, the staff and the clients were very happy to be able to get back to a routine. Treatment can offer so many wonderful opportunities for learning and growing, and sometimes the opportunities come from unexpected situations. We were not able to choose the path of the storm, but the storm had offered us the ability to experience the importance of acceptance, flexibility, patience, and gratitude. #HurricaneIrma2017