Burst pipes, water uncertainty, supply shortages — an “emergency on top of a pandemic” for Texas hospitals

Texas hospitals are confronting the dual challenge of navigating an unprecedented storm and continuing to treat COVID-19 patients as the recent weather ravages health facilities across the state. Power outages, icy roads and water issues are slamming state hospitals with an onslaught of obstacles, forcing them to swiftly make sacrifices to continue their operations.

 

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Carrie Williams from the Texas Hospital Association (THA) provided State of Reform with some insight on how hospitals are faring during the tumult:

“For Texas hospitals, this is an emergency on top of a pandemic. They have been on the frontlines now with broken pipes, dwindling supplies and water restrictions. There is unimaginable pressure on everyone, patients and staff and families. They see and feel the desperation, and hospitals are doing whatever they can to be there for people.”

Water supply is a major issue throughout the state, with hospitals experiencing no running water, broken pipes and restrictions on water use, Williams said. Some areas, including Austin, have instituted boil-water notices. The city instituted such a notice after a power outage at Ullrich Water Treatment Plant raised concerns about water safety. In some instances, water use restrictions are prompting hospital staff to use hand sanitizer instead of washing their hands. In addition, low water pressure is causing issues with dialysis machine operation.

According to Williams, staff at some hospitals have been sleeping on site in order to ensure patients still receive necessary care. An increase in hospital occupants only exacerbates the supply shortage — supplies cannot be delivered to certain facilities while roads are icy. However, the association said they heard some supply trucks are mobile today. 

Among the scarce supplies are medications, oxygen tanks and food. A lack of fuel resources is raising the need for mobile fuel supply sources, which staff need in order to fuel their cars to get home.

Many hospitals are also canceling non-essential surgeries due to high patient volume. Discharged patients in some facilities are staying in the lobby while the weather limits their transportation options. Even many of the individuals who have the means to leave the hospital do not have any electricity at home. According to Gov. Greg Abbott, 325,000 Texans still remain without electricity.

Williams affirmed that THA is in continual contact with hospitals throughout the state to help them handle the crisis.

“We continue to be in touch with numerous Texas hospitals regarding issues and potential issues they may be facing due to ongoing power and water challenges.”

The storm has also directly impacted the state’s COVID-19 response. Last week, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) delayed their slotted shipment of vaccines due to the oncoming storm. “Vaccination will resume as soon as conditions permit,” Lara Anton from DSHS told State of Reform.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler told CBS News on Wednesday that the city decided to delay the planned opening of vaccination facilities, citing safety concerns resulting from the weather.