Severe winter weather is pummeling southern states that aren't accustomed to such conditions, hampering essential operations — including those at hospitals and health systems.
Frigid temperatures in Texas led to a surge in demand for electricity exceeding the available supply Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, leaving millions without power or heat. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been working to restore services, though rolling outages are expected to continue, according to a release.
Hospitals in the region are familiar with other types of inclement weather like hurricanes, and state agencies require they have generators for backup power. But dangerous roadways and staff and patient safety are other concerns for systems, and generators sometimes fail.
Baylor Scott and White, Texas' dominant health system with 51 hospitals, closed drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites and rescheduled vaccine appointments Tuesday and Wednesday, according to an email statement from the system.
It also arranged for staff to remain onsite at the hospital and at nearby hotels amid travel advisories. While its hospitals remain open, the system noted an increasing number of weather-related injuries in emergency departments.
At Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, freezing temperatures and power outages led residents to unsafely use generators and grills, causing an uptick in patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to a release. It’s also seeing an increase in burns caused by space heaters.
Nonprofit Christus Health has 35 hospitals in Texas, and some facilities lost power but had backup generators available, a hospital spokesperson said in an email statement.
Christus also has six hospitals in neighboring Louisiana, another state facing severe winter weather. Across its hospitals in both states, six are currently using backup generators.
Five of its facilities in Texas are canceling and rescheduling elective surgeries Wednesday, though will remain open and emergency surgeries can still be performed.
A number of its clinics in Louisiana are also closed this week, including those for outpatient services. Elective procedures at its hospitals in Shreveport, Louisiana, are canceled through Friday, and other surgical and procedural services like labs and obstetrics are closed for non-emergent cases. However, the system's hospitals and emergency rooms will remain open.
The region's inclement weather pressuring provider operations is likely to begin letting up soon, though its aftereffects could continue to stymie patient care. While temperatures in Texas are expected to rise throughout the week, significant ice accumulations there and throughout the lower Mississippi Valley will continue threatening travel conditions and power outages, according to the National Weather Service.