Little Rock VA hospital taking calls from Houston VA in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

A nurse at Little Rock's John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital fields a phone call transferred from Houston on Monday, while Houston VA call center employees are reassigned to patient care. (Photo: KATV)

The phone lines inside a makeshift call center at the Little Rock Veteran's Affairs hospital started ringing at 4:00PM on Friday - and haven't stopped since. That's when the calls initially being made to the Houston VA medical center were redirected to Little Rock.

"We currently have 28 phone lines going," said Dr. Margie Scott, medical center director at McClellan Memorial VA Hospital in Little Rock.

According to Scott, the call center operating out of a small computer lab has had to add lines since the weekend to help tackle the influx of calls from Houston.

"We're receiving over a thousand calls a day," said Scott.

It's been a 24 hour operation in Little Rock, taking over for the call center in Houston. VA employees that typically work the phones in Houston have been reassigned to help with the more important task at hand - taking care of patients.

"The Michael E. DeBakey medical center there in Houston is open and operational," said Scott. "The issue is with the roads surrounding the medical center and the inability to get into the medical center or out of the medical center."

Scott said because hospital employees in Houston are essentially trapped at the VA medical center, the same staff that's been there since Friday is the same staff working Monday.

"This is just one of the simple things that we're able to bring to Little Rock to take that workload off their list and give them more time to tend to patients who are at the medical center," said Scott.

The majority of calls coming into Little Rock's provisional call center are veterans looking to reschedule appointments and procedures, but because emergency services have been inundated in Houston, some of the calls are becoming more serious in nature. It's why the call center is being staffed with nurses, pharmacists, mental health physicians as well as clerical staff to make sure they can take care of every need.

"Patients who are in respiratory distress, diabetics, going into critical cardiac status," said Scott.

Scott said nurses are occasionally staying on the phone with patients and families of patients for as long as two hours, all while coordinating with doctors to make sure veterans are getting the care they need.

The staff in Little Rock has yet to receive a break in the calls since Friday. Scott said she's hopeful the VA hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, will step in within the next 24 hours to give Little Rock's VA staff a break. The provisional call center will remain open until it's no longer necessary - Scott believes that likely won't be for several days with Houston continuing to be pounded by rainfall in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

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