The COVID-19 Storm: Local healthcare provider deployed with Texas Army National Guard
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall, battering Texas unlike any disaster in recent history. First responders and civilians came together, along with the Texas Army National Guard, taking swift action to help those in need.
For as urgent a crisis as the hurricane was, the threat was visible. Responders could see the flood waters. They could visualize where barricades were failing and where help was needed. People who were displaced from their homes could be rescued and given shelter.
Texas, like the rest of the world, now faces another storm. But this time, the surge is hidden. The clouds are invisible; the hurricane-force impact is both puzzling and destructive.
Colonel Brian Weber, PA-C, MPAS, has been a healthcare provider with Family Practice at Live Oak in Commerce—now a member of the Hunt Regional Medical Partners group—for three decades, during which time countless families have turned to him for his knowledge of health, wellness, and disease.
In the last month, his expertise has been called on for another reason: to care for soldiers during the fight against COVID-19.
As part of the Texas Army National Guard for 36 years, Weber has seen his share of disasters. He now serves as the deputy commander for clinical services.
When Gov. Greg Abbott activated the Texas National Guard in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Weber temporarily left his Live Oak practice and was deployed to help the Guard care for soldiers and expand health care capacity in Texas.
“My immediate response was to protect the soldiers that are out and are responding to COVID-19. We created the COVID Care Call Team, or C3T, calling patients that were either in self-isolation or may have become sick twice a day to make sure that they're doing okay. They're following self-quarantine protocols for the 14 days so we don't lose track of a soldier,” said Weber.
When a soldier gets sick, they need support just like any patient. The Guard has created a military isolation support facility so if patients are exposed and can't return home, they can be housed in Bastrop at a training site.
“If we get soldiers that are sick with COVID, I've got nurses, I've got monitors, I've got lab and x-ray capability, and we can put them out there so we're not overburdening the civilian healthcare system,” said Weber.
“We've got everything in place so we can better care for our soldiers,” he said.
Gov. Abbott has called for expanded testing across the state. In urban areas that already have the infrastructure in place, expanding testing has been less of a challenge. But for rural areas—such as Hunt County—providing the volume that is needed has proven difficult.
“Together with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the health department, we’re standing up 25 mobile testing teams that can set up various sites and tests, and each team will test about 150 patients in a day,” said Weber.
Securing assistance requires a coordinated effort between county judges, the state emergency operations center, and the National Guard.
“The main focus is to get them out into rural counties like Hunt County. I sit on the LEPC, the Local Emergency Preparedness Committee, where Richard Hill is the director of the Hunt County Office of Homeland Security. We're going to have this capability in the next week," he said.
The National Guard has been a key force across the state during the COVID-19 response, helping distribute supplies and assisting food banks in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, Lubbock, and other cities.
“They're getting out more meals than the food banks have ever done before because they’ve got soldiers doing it. We've got units that are making PPE in Fort Worth by the millions. We've got engineering teams going around the state, looking at alternate care facilities, turning a high school or a hotel or convention center into overflow hospitals,” said Weber.
And while those soldiers help care for citizens, Weber helps care for them.
“The soldiers are happy that we're taking care of them, so we don't send them home sick. We're training them how to use PPE correctly, so they're thankful for that. As health care providers, we're used to using that all the time so we can get them fit-tested,” said Weber.
“The public has been very appreciative of our help so far, especially at the food banks. One of our teams got PPE distributed to 900 nursing homes and care facilities in the Houston area last week,” he said.
As part of a military family, Weber is used to adapting to whatever the mission calls for. He says that this deployment has been completely different from recent crises.
“It's not as chaotic as Harvey; it's completely different. We took a lot of the lessons we learned in Harvey and applied them. As far as the sense of urgency, it's not quite as urgent as it was in Harvey. In some ways, it's more risky because we face an unknown adversary in COVID-19,” said Weber.
Weber is stationed at Camp Mabry in Austin which serves as the headquarters for the Texas Military Department. As for the million-dollar question of when he’ll return home, Brian says he’ll be there as long as he’s needed.
“Since Texas is doing such a fantastic job of flattening the curve, I don't know. Right now I plan to be here through May,” said Weber.
While it may be several more weeks before Weber returns to practice medicine in Hunt County, his co-workers at Hunt Regional have not forgotten about him.
“I'd like to thank them for their support. The office is getting together a care package for the soldiers that are out at the isolation facility and I thought that was very sweet. The leadership of the hospital has been great and very supportive,” said Weber
“It's very nice. It just makes you feel like you’re part of a family,” he said.