AUSTIN, Texas – Some hospitals, running out of heat or water, have rushed to move their most seriously ill patients elsewhere. Other hospitals were teeming with patients injured or sick in the winter storm, dragging them into the hallways. In one hospital, the pipes burst, sending water spray into the emergency room, while in another, patients were told to clean themselves with hand sanitizer and stop showering in the hospital. the desperate goal of saving water.
Chaotic scenes unfolded across Texas on Thursday as hospitals faced an onslaught of issues related to the brutal storm: wintry indoor temperatures, shortages of generators, acute water shortages and an increase in emergency room visits by doctors. patients in desperate need of dialysis treatment and oxygen tanks.
“We carry water on trucks in order to flush the toilet,” said Roberta L. Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist, which operates seven hospitals around the fourth largest city in the country. Water, she said, was so scarce that health workers used bottled water for chemotherapy treatments.
“We actually had a rain storm after the ice storm, so we collected the rainwater because we needed it,” added Ms. Schwartz.
The uproar comes at an already difficult time for Texas hospitals, nearly a year after the start of a pandemic that has pushed many to their limits. As new coronavirus cases in Texas have fallen sharply from an average of more than 20,000 a day a month ago to less than half in recent days, much of the state is struggling as the virus continues to spread and vaccine distribution has been slowed by storms this week.
The Odessa, Eagle Pass and Huntsville areas have reported new cases of the virus at some of the highest rates in the country. And state officials have warned that the number of cases this week is likely to be artificially low due to gaps in reporting during the storm. In Travis County, which includes Austin, officials had not provided new case data since last Friday and said they did not expect to do so again until the weekend, citing the effects of the storm on their staff.
Hospitals such as St. David’s South Austin Medical Center have said they are transferring some patients to other facilities as they desperately try to conserve resources. In a statement, David Huffstutler, the general manager of St. David’s HealthCare, said the hospital was working to get tankers and portable toilets as quickly as possible.
In Dallas, parts of the ceiling collapsed at Baylor University Medical Center after a hose burst, spraying water directly into the emergency room. Julie Smith, a spokesperson for the hospital, said workers made initial repairs that allowed patients to continue being treated there.
The scenes took place in a state where healthcare workers have struggled with repeated crises in recent years: hurricanes. Floods. Tropical storms. Blackouts. Pandemic outbreaks.
Austin hospital emergency room doctor Dr. Sarah Olstyn Martinez bluntly described the situation on Facebook: “There’s nowhere to put anyone.”
“I don’t want to incite panic, but I also want people to understand the gravity of the situation in the hope that people will stay at home,” wrote Dr Martinez, adding, “We are accommodating 2 patients. in a room and lodge them. in the hallways. “
“I have never seen a city medical system in such a dire situation as Austin is right now,” continued Dr. Martinez. “The COVID spikes were nothing compared to the current situation.”
In a telephone interview, Dr Martinez said his hospital was operated with a small staff. Doctors and nurses, she said, stayed in some hospitals, “sleeping in every open nook and cranny.”
Some of the challenges facing Texas hospitals relate to issues that have rippled through the state’s beleaguered healthcare system since the storm and power grid crisis. An influx of dialysis patients, for example, is putting stress on hospital emergency rooms as many dialysis centers – which need electricity, heat and large amounts of filtered water to provide care properly – are temporarily closed.
At one of Houston’s Methodist hospitals, medics turned a former intensive care unit into a makeshift dialysis unit, moving 42 patients out of the cramped emergency room on Wednesday. And in parts of east Texas, healthcare workers are increasingly alarmed that patients have not been treated with dialysis in the past week that they are asking police departments. premises to carry out social checks.
“It can be a death sentence for some of our patients,” said Kara McClure, a social worker from the Tyler area. She said dialysis clinics in Tyler, Athens and Palestine were closed due to a lack of water and a clinic in Jacksonville was closed because staff members could not reach the site. Even hospitals in the area have struggled with water shortages that could complicate dialysis treatments.
“This is a large-scale system failure, and it’s overwhelming,” Ms. McClure said. “I’m afraid people are dying.”
Federal officials pledged aid Thursday. Liz Sherwood-Randall, President Biden’s homeland security adviser, told reporters that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing 60 generators to critical sites like hospitals and water facilities, and sending 729,000 liters of water and 50,000 cotton blankets to the state.
Still, some Texas doctors have warned the situation could worsen, noting the possibility of increased risks from Covid-19 as the state tries to recover from the storm. About 7,600 coronavirus patients were hospitalized statewide on Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, up from around 14,000 at the peak in mid-January.
Although Texas avoided the worst of the pandemic last spring, the state has struggled often since then. The number of cases increased last summer and again in the fall and early winter. The regions of Eagle Pass, Lubbock and Laredo are among the five metropolitan areas in the country with the highest rates of cases known during the pandemic.
About 10.6% of Texans had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Thursday and about 4.3% were fully vaccinated, placing the state below the national average in both measures, but not among the less efficient.
In Laredo, on the border with Mexico, Dr Ricardo Cigarroa, a cardiologist who turned to treating coronavirus patients during the pandemic, said vaccine distribution was delayed by about a week in due to problems related to the power grid failure.
The storm had also brought additional risks. Lots of people found comfort, he said, as they huddled together for warmth. “But Covid loves it,” Dr Cigarroa said.
David Montgomery reported from Austin, and Simon romero Albuquerque. Reporting was contributed by Mitch smith from Chicago, James dobbins from San Antonio, and Marina Trahan Martinez and Richard Webner of Austin. Sheelagh McNeill contributed to the research.