Vulnerable Victims: Hurricane Harvey Affects Caregivers and in Turn the Elderly They Care For

Vulnerable Victims: Hurricane Harvey Affects Caregivers and in Turn the Elderly They Care For

The months following the storm will be marked by lost wages, transportation
issues, and strained access to proper care.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey is extensive. The damage is estimated at nearly
$200 billion, the most ever witnessed in the U.S. It is estimated that nearly a million care were
flooded and over 100,000 homes were damaged. At its peak, nearly 85 percent of the city of
Houston was believed to be flooded. These estimates are just the beginning. Older adults are
among the most vulnerable of Houstonians, with countless suffering as the victims of abuse and
exploitation. An estimated 250,000 seniors in the Greater Houston Area receive care from a
family member or friend, and approximately 75,000 of these Houstonian family caregivers are
living in poverty. Tens of thousands of Houston families pay a private caregiver or caregiving
agency to care for their loved ones, and both the client and the caregiver are particularly
vulnerable during natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

Houston caregivers earn between $8 and $16 an hour, with most averaging just over $9 an hour.
The vast majority of Medicare reimbursed caregivers are paid minimum wage in Texas for what
has been described by many as the hardest job in America. “Taking care of my mother with
Alzheimer’s was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life,” says Ray from Massachusetts.
“When I was in the U.S Navy, I had the 2nd most dangerous job in the world by working the
flight deck of a an aircraft carrier. Yes, it was harder than that. I was a 24hr job, feeding, bathing,
making sure she wouldn’t run away, taking her to her doctors appointments and much, much
more. I didn’t have anywhere near enough support to take care of her and I was neglecting myself to be there for her.”

The devastation left behind by Hurricane Harvey created a transportation nightmare for those
trying to get around the city of Houston. Weeks after the peak of flooding, sinkholes, flooded
streets, road closures, and standstill traffic jams still plague the city and could persist for months
to come. Houston suffers from limited public transit infrastructure, with most Houstonians
relying on a personal vehicle or at least access to a bus route. Houston is also a vastly spread out
city, covering more than 639 square miles. When faced with widespread traffic congestion and
road closures, caregivers find it nearly impossible to make their shifts. Caregiver access to client
homes has been jeopardized, leaving clients at risk of not receiving the daily care they so
desperately need.

Most caregivers are paid on an hourly basis, making wages lost during the wake of a natural
disaster a significant financially threat. The caregiving industry is largely fragmented, and a large
percentage of caregiving agencies, including national franchise branches, are small mom-and-
pop operations that don’t provide health insurance coverage to their caregivers. This results in a
further expenses and lost wages to any caregivers who are injured in the storm and unable to
return to work for an extended period of time. When caregivers can’t get to their shift, their
clients suffer. No one is there to remind the client to take vital medication, to administer lifesaving insulin injections, to bathe the older adult, or to prepare meals and feed the client.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. Older adults rely on their caregivers for activities of daily
living, and without caregiver help, an older adult’s safety can be fatally put at risk.
At Family Tree, the company’s 300+ caregivers were remarkable during the flooding. There are
countless stories of courage, compassion, and heroism from Family Tree caregivers who
sacrificed their personal needs to meet the needs of seniors amid the devastation of Harvey.
Many chose to stay by their client’s side when the rain began to fall, leaving their own families
to do so. The stories like those from the Family Tree caregivers can be found all over Houston’s
caregiving population. The compassion and dedication of caregivers at a time like this shows just
how incredible this vulnerable and underappreciated population of workers truly is. As a direct
result of Hurricane Harvey, Family Tree’s clients and caregivers suffered immensely — 14
caregivers’ homes were flooded, 5 caregivers evacuated with their families to shelters, and 20
caregivers lost their vehicles. The storm did not discriminate — clients were similarly affected.
Considering the fragmented nature of the caregiving industry and lack of infrastructure, much of
the burden in assisting caregivers has fallen on deaf ears. Those in the industry have rallied
around their community including the seniors, but few have rallied around the caregiver
population that is vital to the health and safety of those seniors. Lighting the way has been
Family Tree, serving in every capacity imaginable. Below are just a few of the more significant
ways Family Tree has been able to serve the Houston community with its knowledge, expertise,
and resources:

1) Jewish Community Center – The JCC provides charitable rides called “J Rides”
helping seniors travel to their doctor appointments. In the wake of the storm, Family
Tree has been assisting the J Rides program by using its Ride With Family Tree platform,
an Uber ride sharing platform built for older adults, to help Houston seniors struggling to
to make their doctor appointments.

2) Family Tree Supply Fund – Family Tree has partnered with local nonprofits to
identify caregivers in need of supplies necessary to put their lives back together in the
aftermath of the storm. Family Tree has also provided furniture and other donated items
to caregivers who lost homes and vehicles in Hurricane Harvey. The truckloads of
supplies provided to help in the rebuilding stages after Hurricane Harvey included food,
water, blankets, clothes, and household items. Just this week, Family Tree will be
delivering to caregivers a truckload of infant and toddler supplies from Get Scene Acting
Studios in Atlanta, GA.

3) Alzheimer Association – In conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association, Family
Tree was able to identify older adults in need of services during the aftermath of the
storm. Through this endeavor, Family Tree has donated pro bono services to those in
need, for example providing free caregiving services to a dementia patient found at NRG Center. Family Tree provided services for this gentleman until he was able to safely
board an airplane to go home to his family.

4) Family Tree Fund –Family Tree started a relief fund to help all Houston
caregivers affected by Hurricane Harvey. Family Tree kicked off donations with $2,500
and agree do match donations made the fund. The funds will be used to help those
caregivers most severely impacted by the storm in an effort to help them get back on their

This is only the beginning, as we expect it will take years before Houston will be back to normal.
During this time, the need for caregiving services has already sharply increased as families work
together to rebuild what was lost during the storm. The success of our seniors begins with
reaching out to help those who keep them safe and healthy, their caregivers. If we can help our
loved one’s caregivers, we can hit two birds with one stone…and help our loved ones.