- Houston-area hospitals and other healthcare facilities tried to withstand brutal conditions this weekend as Hurricane Harvey caused unprecedented, catastrophic flooding in southeastern Texas. Some hospitals struggled with power outages while ambulances and helicopters had difficulty transporting people who needed emergency care.
- Houston’s largest public hospital, the 444-bed Ben Taub Hospital, was planning to evacuate Sunday afternoon as water in the basement endangered its electrical system. Several other hospitals and nursing homes were also forced to evacuate, The New York Times reported.
- HHS Secretary Tom Price on Saturday issued a public health emergency for Texas, which was retroactive to Aug. 25. The department has more than 500 personnel on the ground in affected areas and has provided 53,000 pounds of medical equipment and supplies. The CMS has provided public health officials with information about Medicare beneficiaries who rely on life-maintaining equipment, as well as those who need dialysis and home health services.
Communities rely on their hospitals in times of disaster, but a weather event like Hurricane Harvey can make even the most routine operations difficult, if not outright impossible. With another landfall in the Houston area possible this week, healthcare facilities will see their capabilities tested harshly.
Healthcare systems have learned from previous hurricanes of the importance of preparing for catastrophic weather. Some hospitals and nursing homes were heavily criticized during Hurricane Katrina as some vulnerable patients were unable to receive life-saving services. Texas also has memories of Hurricane Rita in 2005, when a bus carrying nursing home residents caught on fire during a disastrous evacuation, and Tropical Storm Allison, which devastated Texas Medical Center's campus in 2001.
Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County’s public health department, told the Times his agency has made significant investments in an effort to be ready for disaster. “The challenge is until it unfolds there’s so many moving pieces and it’s never the same as the situations you’ve previously encountered,” he said.
A few hospitals deployed their submarine doors, which seal off lower floors. Facilities installed them in response to Allison. They have a seal around their perimeter that inflates when the doors are closed, making it water-tight and able to withstand up to 12 feet of water, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center said its inpatient areas were still open Sunday, but it would cancel or postpone outpatient services at least through Monday. Several hospitals announced that elective surgeries and outpatient services would be canceled Monday.
In the coming days, staffing at hospitals may also become a pressing issue. Transportation is likely to remain impossible for days in many areas.