Texas hospitals are running out of water amid power outages. Some are evacuating patients for safety.
When St. David’s South Austin Medical Center ran out of water and lost heat on Wednesday amid a historic cold burst in Texas, the hospital was forced to ask staffers to use trash bags to remove feces from toilets, KVUE reported.
That dire scene captured a growing crisis for hospitals in the state. As millions of Texans remain without power for what could be days, hospitals throughout Texas have now lost water and heat, leaving doctors scrambling to conserve resources and coronavirus vaccine shots while caring for vulnerable residents.
Some are now moving patients to other facilities for their safety — if they can find anywhere with the ability to take them amid an ongoing pandemic and power emergency.
“No one hospital currently has the capacity to accept transport of a large number of patients,” David Huffstutler, CEO of St. David’s HealthCare, told The Washington Post in a statement early Thursday.
For this Texas family, a struggle to stay warm
Millions of Texans are enduring freezing temperatures amid a large-scale failure of the state’s power grid. (Lindsey Sitz, Spike Johnson/The Washington Post)
As millions remain without power amid more snow and ice, blame and questions mount
Huffstutler said his hospital would have to transfer the most critical of its nearly 300 patients, as Austin faces a citywide water boil notice until further notice. Other patients would receive an early discharge.
“Water feeds the facility’s boiler, so as a result, it is also losing heat,” Huffstutler said, according to KXAN.
Like other hospitals in the area, St. David’s is trying to bring water trucks on-site, securing portable toilets and finding transportation for discharged patients. The hospital is also “canceling all non-emergent procedures,” a statement from St. David’s said.
Lost water pressure is affecting a number of hospitals in the Austin area, including Ascension Seton Southwest Hospital and Dell Children’s Medical Center. Ascension Seton announced Wednesday it would reschedule all elective surgeries to preserve personnel and bed capacity, reported the Austin American-Statesman. Dell Children’s, which lost power, said in a memo to patients obtained by KUT that its managers were “doing their best to keep everyone safe and warm,” but noted that toilets did not have “flushing capabilities.”
“While extreme weather conditions have caused intermittent water issues at several Ascension Seton sites of care, facility teams are working quickly to resolve the issues,” Ascension Seton said in a statement.
In Houston, another major city under a water boil notice enacted Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) pleaded with residents to stop running water to prevent pipes from freezing to help conserve resources for hospitals. Pipes have already burst at multiple Houston Methodist hospitals across the city, and at least two facilities are operating without water, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Roberta L. Schwartz, executive vice president at Houston Methodist, told the Houston Business Journal that the hospital system is still operating using jugs and bottles of water for patients. Houston Methodist’s locations have also tried to conserve water by limiting showers and having staffers wash their hands with hand sanitizer instead of water and soap.
“Quite honestly, I think we probably could have handled everything up until the water,” Schwartz told the outlet. “The water has thrown a completely new loop onto everything.”
With many area hospitals suffering low water pressure, Houston officials are pulling from unorthodox sources. Turner, who has already dipped into a water supply bookmarked for irrigating parks, has instructed grocery store chains to send whatever available water they can spare to hospitals. The Houston Fire Department has separately sent water to at least one facility, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.
“We’re all working together, just like we’ve done before, pulling resources from wherever they exist, and then sharing those resources,” the mayor said at a Wednesday news conference.
Because demand for water is lower in winter months, Arlington, Tex., only had one water plant running before the winter weather struck. As a result, water pressure dropped at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital and Medical City of Arlington after the area’s water boil order, KAGS reported. A fire tanker has delivered water to one of the hospitals so that medical staff can continue treating patients.
At least five hospitals in San Antonio have encountered problems caused by the storm, ranging from low water pressure to power outages that have forced one facility to run on a backup generator, according to WOAI.
Ruben Gomez, a 71-year-old patient at a dialysis center in the city, told the TV station he is worried that water shortages will prevent him from being treated.
“I was scared for my life,” Gomez said. “Water keeps our machines going. The water pressure — the pressure keeps our machines going and when the water pressure collapses, our machines become nonfunctional.”