North Texas weather can be unpredictable and occasionally dangerous and destructive. Rain, hail and flooding are common enough to those living near Dallas, Fort Worth and outlying areas. But record low freezing temperatures that far south is uncommon.

In February 2021, much of the state incurred a major power crisis, the result of a polar vortex sweeping across the region.

The massive electrical failures resulted in heat, water and food shortages. The storm affected more than 4.5 million people over several days. There were 210 direct or indirect fatalities because of the events.

VA North Texas Health Care System, with 12 facilities in 40 area counties, was not spared the wrath of record low temperatures and ice. Water lines at the Fort Worth VA Outpatient Clinic burst, leaving the entire first floor and parts of the second floor in ruins.

Along with prolonged power outages, the building suffered major water damage. It was deemed unsafe and unusable for the staff and the patients who relied on the facility for their health care.

Navy Veteran Kevin Benson

Water “did a number” on equipment

“This was a hard hit on our services. Fifty-thousand of our 180,000 patients are served by the Fort Worth clinic,” said Dr. Stephen Holt, director of the VA North Texas Health Care System. “Water is unforgiving. It did a number on clinical areas that contained critical radiological, laboratory, pharmacy and sterile processing equipment.”

The monumental task of rerouting and rescheduling patients was the priority. It started even before restoration crews could even get into the building.

The staff used other VA North Texas clinics, the Dallas VA Medical Center, and community partners. Together, they ensured every single Veteran had access to care when and where they needed it.

The staff worked out of temporary trailers and workstations. It continued the monumental efforts to safeguard as many patients as possible against COVID-19. That effort included conducting drive-up vaccination events in between coordinating care.

“Our Fort Worth clinic is one of the largest leased spaces we have,” Holt said. “It was extremely important for us to get it back fully operational, while ensuring we are better prepared for extreme weather conditions in the future.”

Patients, staff, delighted when clinic reopened

After five months of intensive repairs and improvements, patients and staff were delighted when the clinic fully reopened in mid-July.

“Our staff feels like family, so it’s really nice finally having all of us under the same roof again,” said Deborah “Dash” James, Fort Worth VA executive secretary.

“Really glad to reopen our doors.”

“It was hard to believe something as extreme as this weather could happen here in North Texas,” said Kevin Benson, Navy Veteran. “I recently left the northern states and moved to Texas to escape the cold weather and ice.”

Returning key services like primary care and specialty care, dental, medical imaging, and social work services to the Fort Worth clinic was a welcome event to the hundreds of patients who walk the hallways and treatment space each day.

“We’re really glad to be able to fully re-open our doors and provide these services that our patients rely on,” said Celestine Leach, manager of the Fort Worth VA clinic.

By Yolonde Rocio is a public affairs specialist for VA North Texas Health Care System

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Published on Aug. 6, 2021

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