AUSTIN, Texas - As severe weather cripples Texas’ infrastructure, many medical facilities have been left without power, water, phone, and internet service. Many healthcare workers and patients ready for discharge have been unable to get home. Some healthcare professionals have been unable to make it to work, forcing their colleagues to work days on end.
On Wednesday, four St. David’s healthcare facilities, St. David’s Medical Center, South Austin Medical Center, North Austin Medical Center, and Heart Hospital were under Austin’s boil water notice.
"We are working with our supply chain to provide water for our patients, staff, and hospital operations. We began supplementing our onsite water inventory last week, and supplies are continuing to arrive." read a statement from a hospital spokesperson.
St. David’s Medical Center lost water, and the Heart Hospital had low water pressure Wednesday. Tuesday evening, the South Austin Medical Center lost water, and consequently heat. They transported 30 patients to other hospitals and brought in water trucks to aid their heating system.
A statement from a Baylor, Scott & White spokesperson Wednesday said the healthcare system had been experiencing water outages "over the past few days." Their Emergency Center in Cedar Park closed due to a "winter weather-related water leak." Patients were transferred to other hospitals.
Dr. Luke Padwick, founder and CEO of Austin Emergency Center, a group of six freestanding emergency rooms, told FOX 7 Austin all six facilities have lost power. "Everything you can imagine is, has gone down. But we have stayed open," he said. "one facility remained without power, and dependent on a generator." Padwick said some of his facilities have lost other critical resources such as internet, phone service, and most importantly, water.
"As a healthcare facility the basics of just flushing toilets is an issue," explained Kevin Herrington president of the Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers. "We are a healthcare facility so cleanliness is the most important for infection control so the basics of washing your hands becomes a challenge," he explained.
The six freestanding emergency rooms have not only stayed open through the extreme weather, but have started accepting EMS drop-offs, something Padwick says freestanding emergency rooms do not do in Travis County, and seldom do in the state.
"[The emergency room is] just taking that load of the sort of the, maybe moderate acuity patients that would be seen in the hospital ER’s and sent home. We’ve got quite a few of those from EMS that would have gone to the hospitals," he explained.
Freestanding emergency rooms are not similar to say, Urgent Care. They are not affiliated with a hospital but provide a very similar level of care. They do not perform surgery. Like all emergency rooms, they are designed to transfer patients in need of specialized care.
Dr. Natasha Kathura says that has been extremely challenging this week. "We’re having to increase our capacity to hold patients longer than we ever want to hold patients, delaying surgeries. Ambulance transfers are taking over eight hours for some 9-1-1 calls so things have been very difficult for us."