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Cold, lack of water overwhelm Texas hospitals more than COVID-19 did

Brad Brooks
·2 min read

By Brad Brooks

Feb 19 (Reuters) - Texas doctor Natasha Kathuria haspracticed medicine in 11 countries, worked through the 2014"Snowmageddon" storm that ground Atlanta to a halt, and survivedthe past year's COVID-19 pandemic crush.

But Kathuria and some other doctors in Texas are saying theyhave never seen a more harrowing week than this one.

Record-setting cold weather has cut water and grid energysupplies to hospitals across a wide swath of Texas. Electricityand water services were resuming, but many homes and somehospitals still did not have either on Friday. Half the state'spopulation was under a "must-boil" order to ensure water issafe.

"We're overwhelmed, way more than we've been with COVID,"said Kathuria, who works in several Austin-area emergency rooms."This system failure has completely rocked us in our ERs - andin our own homes."

Many hospital staffers have stayed in the medical facilitiesall week - knowing there was no heat or water at home. At leasthospitals have generators for basic electricity. Some had waterhauled in to fill tanks or hired water tankers. Others hadrunning but not potable water.

Doctors in Austin, Houston and the Dallas area called thelack of water their biggest problem. Dialysis machines do notwork without water, surgery equipment cannot be sterilized, andhands cannot be washed.

Dr. Neil Gandhi, an emergency room physician and theregional medical director for the ER departments at HoustonMethodist's seven hospitals in the area, said those facilitieswere at 90% operating capacity by Friday afternoon. Earlier inthe week, two were able to take only emergency patients, Gandhiadded.

"On top of the COVID pandemic, this has been a dual traumaevent for both our patients and our providers," Gandhi said.

Ambulances struggled to reach people on roads that were notcleared because Texas cities have few snow plows and not nearlyenough salt on hand. Doctors in stand-alone emergency carelocations who routinely call the 911 emergency number forambulances to transfer patients to hospitals had to wait morethan nine hours for any to arrive - if they were available atall.

Gandhi said that in Houston this week there were times whenentire neighborhoods simply did not have any emergency medicalservices.

Hospitals set up portable toilets. Inside, patient's toiletswere flushed by tossing in a bucket of water. Less criticaldialysis patients delayed treatment, while others limited theirtime on machines.

Rural hospitals across Texas were not only trying to treatpatients under tough conditions, but also serving as de facto"warming centers" for the healthy, said John Henderson,president of the Texas Organization of Rural and CommunityHospitals.

Even with warmer weather forecast for next week there couldstill be a sea of broken water pipes and other damage.

"We worried that when the sun comes out and the temperaturegoes up," Kathuria said, "that it's not necessarily the end insight."

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by WillDunham and Donna Bryson)