Hospitals in South Begin Slow Return to Operations

Power outages, water shortages and scrambles for critical supplies delay and complicate patient care

By By Dan Hounsell
February 24, 2021

The frigid weather and its fallout across the South has tested hospitals in ways that even the COVID-19 pandemic has not. Power outages, water shortages and scrambles for a range of critical supplies have delayed and complicated patient care and threatened to shut down operations.

Hospitals across the South grappled with water shortages Sunday in the wake of a devastating winter storm as the region carried on with recovery efforts, according to U.S. News & World Report. At the height of last week's storm, hospitals scrambled to care for patients amid record cold temperatures, snow and ice. The icy blast ruptured water mains, knocked out power to millions of utility customers and contributed to at least 76 deaths — half of which occurred in Texas. At least seven people died in Tennessee and four in Portland, Oregon. A rural hospital in Anahuac, Texas, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Houston, lost both water and power.

William Kiefer, CEO of Chambers Health, which runs the hospital along with two clinics and a wellness center, said the facilities resorted to backup generators and water from a 275-gallon storage tank. They refilled it three times using water from a swimming pool in the wellness center.

For the workers in these facilities, the week was marked by a series of struggles. Many hospital staffers have stayed in the medical facilities all week - knowing there was no heat or water at home, according to Reuters. At least hospitals have generators for basic electricity. Some had water hauled in to fill tanks or hired water tankers. Others had running but not potable water.

Doctors in Austin, Houston and the Dallas area called the lack of water their biggest problem. Dialysis machines do not work without water, surgery equipment cannot be sterilized, and hands cannot be washed.

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