Stephanie Niles, her staff and CAREGivers needed help, and the Home Instead Senior Care® family responded quickly.
Stephanie is the owner/president of the award-winning franchise in Victoria, Texas, a metro area of about 120,000 that staggered under the gut punch of Hurricane Harvey on Friday, Aug. 25. A cavalry of Home Instead Senior Care franchise owners scrambled to offer aid even before the massive storm arrived. Also responding were staff from the Home Instead Senior Care corporate office in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Home Instead Senior Care Foundation with its Disaster Relief Fund that assisted CAREGivers and their families.
Even with the help, Stephanie and Owner/Vice President Chris Baughman continue to deal with weeks-old challenges that were generated by the powerful Category 4 hurricane long after it pounded their territory. The storm forced mandatory evacuations, caused severe flooding and widespread destruction and created a disruption of Home Instead Senior Care service.
"Chris and I want to emphasize what an amazing network Home Instead Senior Care is and how much we appreciate the support. As we were bracing for Hurricane Harvey, every Home Instead Senior Care owner in Texas and our corporate business performance team reached out to let us know they were there for us," Stephanie said.
"I am not going to lie. I don't think any of us understood what was coming. The storm made landfall in Rockport, which is our territory. It trampled straight through Victoria and then curved east and stopped – all of which is our territory. Victoria and vicinity lost power Friday evening, and some areas didn't regain it fully for nine days or more."
Harvey was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2004, and it caused at least $16.3 billion in damage. While at least 81 deaths in Texas were attributed to the storm, none involved Home Instead-Victoria clients or personnel. Stephanie detailed the professional and personal challenges of dealing with one of the eight most destructive storms in United States history:
Question: How did the Hurricane Harvey episode unfold for you and your franchise?
Stephanie: "With a few exceptions, we canceled CAREGiver shifts starting at noon Friday, Aug. 25, but had shifts scheduled to resume Monday, Aug. 28. One CAREGiver traveled with a client to New Braunfels area, and two clients chose to stay in place in Edna with two CAREGivers. As the rain continued, Chris and I were getting rain bands on the outskirts of Houston, where we live and where up to 2.5 inches of rain dumped every 30 minutes. It just kept getting worse, for longer than anyone imagined. In fact, during a three-day period, the Houston area received 30-plus inches of rain."
Question: Tell us how you and Chris were personally affected.
Stephanie: "On Sunday morning, Aug. 27, there was still heavy rain in our area as Harvey – then a tropical storm but still treacherous – stalled between Houston and Victoria. Chris and I were in danger of seeing our homes flooded. Our area is by the Brazos River and with the crest expected to hit 59 feet, the levee system around Chris' neighborhood would not be adequate. I live on three acres, and we have a creek behind a home we are building. We live in a barn behind the new construction. Chris began evacuating his family but stayed behind to watch his house. My husband Ryan and I evacuated our kids to the Victoria area, where my parents live. The entire Victoria area had no electricity, so of course my parents' home had no power. But my parents have a generator, and their home was not in danger of flooding."
Question: You and Chris had to make multiple decisions in the first 48 to 72 hours. What were some of them?
Stephanie: "We were on a timeline as the rivers rose and access anywhere was being cut off. I can't express the chaos, uncertainty and loss of control that happened in those hours. As Chris' neighborhood began to flood even worse, he finally evacuated to a nearby friend's house. On Sunday, there was no power in Victoria. There were still heavy rains in our area as the storm moved toward Houston. By Sunday afternoon, the urgency kicked in as we realized we would not be able to provide services to anyone until possibly Wednesday, Aug. 30. So, with minimal internet and cell-phone service, we started calling and canceled all shifts."
Question: What about your employees?
Stephanie: "Most CAREGivers started messaging their damages and concerns that included no power, limited food, holes in ceilings and more. Our office staff was hit hard – two women staff members saw major damage occur at their homes and the third staff member is eight months' pregnant. She and her husband had bought a small generator, but it powered only the refrigerator, a fan and few lights. Plus, by this time, Victoria was under a boil-water order as the water system was contaminated. Most clients and CAREGivers left the city to go to hotels and anywhere else they could land. All were accumulating hotel costs, lost wages and lost food because of the lack of electricity. We canceled shifts until Friday, Sept. 1, and resumed only what we could service. We received a message that a CAREGiver had been sleeping in her car for three days with no food. She had nowhere to go, so we spoke with North Austin franchise owner Tyson Murphy, who immediately took care of the situation by calling a New Braunfels hotel and paying for her two nights' stay. Tyson's actions were an example of the many forms of support our franchise received from the Home Instead Senior Care family."
Question: Tell us about the response from other franchise owners and personnel.
Stephanie: "We received offers of help from all over the Home Instead Senior Care network. Of course, we didn't initially know how they could help. But a few days after the storm hit, we knew. In addition to Tyson's assistance with our displaced CAREGiver, New Braunfels franchise owners Jean-Marc and Kris Mira received the CAREGiver into their office the next day to help her get FEMA support and other assistance. Jean-Marc and Kris also reached out to my client who was evacuated to New Braunfels to stay with family. One of our CAREGivers had stayed with the client for nine straight days, and Jean-Marc and Kris offered to provide relief services."
Question: How did other offices help?
Stephanie: "South Fort Worth franchise owner Marty Rew reached out and let us know he was bringing two trailers and asked what we needed. He loaded up water and food, and drove to our office Friday morning, and our CAREGivers received groceries, diapers, water. Most of them were still without electricity and under water-boil orders. In addition to Marty's awesome help, our Home Instead Performax Group, with offices in Pennsylvania, Florida, Canada and California, grouped together, had their offices raise funds and sent more relief funds that we passed along to CAREGivers."
Question: How did the corporate office get involved?
Stephanie: "We contacted Lisa, a business performance coach, to find out how to get immediate support for our CAREGivers, and she gave us a direct line to the Home Instead Senior Care Foundation as we continued to endure email and internet limitations. By Friday morning, Sept. 1, we passed out immediate-needs relief checks. As we did so, most CAREGivers and their family members were in tears. I can't tell you the number of thank-you emails and notes we have received. The Home Instead Senior Care Foundation was amazing!"
Question: When did conditions begin to improve?
Stephanie: "Heading into Monday, the flooding in Chris' neighborhood was subsiding as they fixed the levee breech and he went home. The Brazos River crest fell, and husband Ryan and I breathed a little easier, although figuring it might be a 50-50 chance the creek still would flood us. We were literally on an island and could not travel far in any direction."
Question: A week after Hurricane Harvey hit, how did the situation look?
Stephanie: "Throughout the Labor Day weekend, electricity was restored to many parts of Victoria. At my home and Chris' home in Houston, we were not flooded. However, I can't begin to tell you how many people we know who had 3 to 8 feet of water in their homes and had lost everything. We are still not 100 percent, but are happy we are at least through the hard part. Rebuilding and restoring are going to take some time, but everyone is safe."
Question: Put your experiences in perspective.
Stephanie: "First, we have a thankful attitude. Everyone should know how grateful we are that Home Instead helped us and our CAREGivers during this difficult time. The Home Instead Senior Care network, Tyson Murphy, Jean-Marc and Kris Mira, and Marty Rew — the help they provided has been amazing. There was zero hesitation, just action. Again, it wasn't 'if they can help,' it was 'how much do you need?' Thanks to everyone who came to our aid, and God bless this amazing network. We're proud to be a part of an amazing, thoughtful and caring company."
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