A photo from a Texas assisted living community became a social media sensation on Sunday, sending visual confirmation of the destruction that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey brought to the Lone Star State across the country and around the world. Behind the scenes, both small and large senior living operators on the Gulf Coast were dealing with historic levels of rain and other effects through the weekend and on Monday.

La Vita Bella assisted living community in Dickinson, TX, on the outskirts of Houston, made the national news Sunday when the son-in-law of owner Trudy Lampson tweeted out a photo that his wife had received via text message from her mother.

“Need help asap emergency services please RETWEET,” Timothy McIntosh of Tampa, FL, tweeted Sunday morning along with the photo (shared here from his Twitter account, @DividendsMGR), which showed the private community’s residents in chairs and wheelchairs and floodwaters up to their arms. The photo was retweeted hundreds of times, and an earlier one, thousands of times. More than a dozen residents later were rescued. McIntosh and his wife, Kimberly, were interviewed by newspapers and television networks.

Ken Clark, a Galveston County, TX, commissioner, told the New York Times that rescue plans already had been in the works when McIntosh sent his tweet. But the photo visually communicated to those not near affected areas just how serious Harvey’s consequences already were.

Corpus Christi

Two days earlier, before Harvey hit land, Holiday Retirement decided to evacuate residents of Harbor Place, its independent living community in Corpus Christi, to two other communities. Approximately 27 people were taken three hours north, to Englewood Estates in Austin, and about 19 people traveled two hours northwest, to Madison Estates in San Antonio, Andy Crowel, Holiday’s district vice president of operations for the central district, told McKnight’s Senior Living. Crowel’s district includes more than 100 communities throughout the Midwest and down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The total evacuated, he said, included residents, employees and a few resident spouses or adult children. Additional residents opted to stay with family members rather than be transferred to another community.

“Because we have over 300 communities coast to coast,” Crowel said, “it’s not only important but necessary for us to have protocol in place for situations like these and then the supportive team that actually makes sure that it happens.”

LeadingAge creates fund

LeadingAge has created the LeadingAge Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund to help organizations, senior residents and staff affected by the storm.

All donations will go directly to the organization’s nonprofit aging services members and their staffs to cover a range of needs, including basic supplies such as food and water as well as to recovery efforts, LeadingAge said in an announcement.

Visit the LeadingAge website to for more information and to donate.

That team includes more than 20 people — community-level, regional, district and home office staff — who are meeting at least twice a day to discuss actions undertaken and next steps related to Harvey, he said. Affected communities’ web pages are being updated with status reports at least twice a day.

Even with a plan in place, Crowel added, unforeseen issues will need to be addressed. “To build a protocol behind a hurricane, that manual would be volumes and volumes, so we really rely on the individual leaders to bring forth additional thoughts, additional solutions,” he said.

Harbor Place residents made the trips to their temporary homes with water and chef-prepared snacks, Crowel said. “Our goal is not to treat it like an emergency evacuation, although we know that that is its true, intended purpose,” he said. “But we try to make it as comfortable and pleasing for the residents as possible along that journey.”

While residents were being transported from Corpus Christi, staff members in Austin and San Antonio were getting ready for their arrival.

“Our leadership at those receiving communities were taking their teams through a process of preparing their vacant apartments … along with gathering any other furniture from around the community to make it as comfortable as possible,” Crowel said.

The home office procurement team arranged for beds and bedding to be delivered to the communities via freight, he added, with local community leaders purchasing portable or inflatable beds as well.

When Corpus Christi residents arrived at their respective temporary lodging, among those welcoming them were residents of the Austin and San Antonio independent living communities, Crowel said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as just being there to listen and talk with a resident,” he added. “To be displaced in that fashion but fall upon the welcoming hands of staff and residents? That’s where it’s beautiful.”

Also in preparation for the storm, Residents of Brookdale Corpus Christi were evacuated to Brookdale Trinity Towers, a nearby high-rise continuing care retirement community. All of the community’s independent living, assisted living and memory care residents were back home by late Saturday afternoon, according to the company.

“We are currently working on restoring power and making repairs to the other [affected] communities in order to return residents home as soon as possible,” Heather Hunter, a senior public relations specialist with Brookdale, told McKnight’s Senior Living Monday afternoon.

Residents of Brookdale Northshore, an independent living community in Portland, TX, near Corpus Christi, also were evacuated to Trinity Towers. Brookdale Northshore, however, sustained minor damage and was without power on Monday, so residents did not return home.

Also evacuated were residents of Brookdale Victoria, an independent living, assisted living and memory care community, and Brookdale Copperfield, an independent living community, both in Victoria, TX, north of Corpus Christi. They traveled two hours northwest, to Brookdale San Antonio, and they remained there Monday due to power outages at the two Victoria communities.

“We are extremely grateful to the associates and support staff that have been working since Thursday to ensure our residents are kept safe, comfortable and happy during this tense time,” Hunter said of the affected communities.

Monday afternoon, Holiday’s Harbor Place residents were on their way back home to Corpus Christi from Austin and San Antonio, expected to arrive in time for supper and a welcome home party, Crowel said. In their absence, the community’s general manager had stayed to take care of whatever was necessary at the community, he added.

“If there’s a good story to be told here, it’s that each and every one of our residents has strength, belonging and purpose,” Crowel said. “It came to fruition over the past few days, and our staff at all levels lived the experience, too. While [some] weren’t there, they lived it and supported in every way that they could. It was great.”

Back in Houston…

As of Monday afternoon, residents at three Houston-area Holiday independent living communities — Copperfield Estates, Cypress Woods and Paradise Springs — were sheltering in place as rain continued to pelt the city and flooding was expected to worsen. None of the communities had lost power, and all had plenty of food and beverages on hand, Crowel said.

The company was watching weather conditions and was ready to adapt its plans accordingly, he said.

Brookdale also said it was watching the storm closely, its authority-approved storm preparedness plans for its Houston-area communities in place along with a readiness to follow the directions of authorities.

None of Brookdale’s Houston-area communities were in a mandatory evacuation zone as of Monday, according to the company.

One community, Brookdale Tanglewood, was experiencing a phone outage but still had power, food, water and associates on hand to care for the community’s independent living and memory care residents.