It’s very rare we get snow in Houston. So, when my family woke up Monday to snow covering the ground, the kids played outside and even built a snowman. That was fun— for about 45 minutes. But it quickly changed into a serious situation, as Texas was in the grip of a brutal winter storm.
The unprecedented freezing cold temperatures had a devastating impact, as many people were not prepared, including me. In our house, the power was out for a couple of days, with no cell service. We bundled up every night and slept in the same room with the kiddos to keep warm. Wednesday night brought my family some relief — we had intermittent power, and we were grateful for that.
But I learned many of my local colleagues were not out of the woods and over 95% of our call center workforce in Houston was down, impacting some of our operations. Our Houston call center had to reroute calls to call centers in other states.
With millions across Texas without electricity in frigid temperatures, the situation grew more urgent by the day. We were highly concerned about the wellbeing of our staff.
Our team activated a call tree before the storm hit, as a way to check on staff. During the storm, HR business partners and managers were reaching out to associates, via text messaging, via phone calls – any connection possible, trying to get a pulse of how everyone was doing. Responses were coming in one after another that simply read, “no power… no power… no power.” Many associates said they were running low on food and water. Store shelves were empty, or with widespread blackouts, stores were closed. It was evident we needed to do something to help our staff get bare necessities.
Anthem mobilized quickly. The CARE services team — which was established during the pandemic to provide immediate assistance to associates facing challenges — discovered some staff desperately needed shelter, due to pipes that burst causing major water damage in their homes. Many local hotels were at capacity, or had space limitations due to COVID-19, but the CARE team was able to secure a block of rooms at the Houston Hilton Westchase Hotel for about 55 associates who needed a safe place to stay. For staff in need of food and water, Anthem partnered with one of our vendors, International SOS (ISOS), to deliver a truckload of supplies, including canned food, snacks, water, and basic survival supplies. They also brought baby formula, diapers, and pet food.
Several of my colleagues and I organized an effort to distribute it. We gathered Friday evening at our Anthem office, and unloaded pallets from the truck. Masked and energized to help, we assembled about 120 boxes we bought from a local hardware store and formed an assembly line to unpack the supplies and divide it among the boxes.
Saturday and Sunday, the CARE team sent text messages to those who expressed a need. Before we knew it, we had a line of cars of associates eager to their boxes of food, water, and other supplies.
There were a lot of logistics to navigate in the relief efforts, including taking all the appropriate safety measures due to COVID-19, and getting the proper security clearances. But the experience of teamwork and lending a helping hand to our colleagues was rewarding. As they picked up their boxes, we heard grateful associates say, “You don’t understand, we haven’t had water in 3 or 4 days.”
This remarkable undertaking exemplifies Anthem’s values — especially demonstrating leadership, community, and agility. And it serves as a powerful example of Anthem’s commitment to address social drivers of health for our associates. I commend our leadership team for taking quick action to help in this critical time. I applaud my colleagues for coming together to volunteer at a moment’s notice to help one another. Some of them were going through the same distress at their homes, but said, “I wanted to be here to help my co-workers.”
The winter storm ravaged much of Texas and it will be a long road to recovery. But Anthem is in it for the long haul and we continue to survey the damage and put resources in place to help our staff who were impacted.
I never imagined a winter storm of this magnitude could happen here. But in an extraordinary time of need such as this – I’m proud to work for an organization that supports and truly cares for our members and our associates.