Historic Flooding Tests Hospitals in Texas

Posted August 30, 2017

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A 2013 cover story in BI&T outlined the steps that healthcare facilities can take to prepare for disasters.

Experts participating in a panel discussion from the AAMI 2015 Conference & Expo also provided some tips.


The epic flooding in southeastern Texas, spawned by Hurricane Harvey, is testing the ability of healthcare facilities to effectively function during a natural disaster and underscores the importance of preparing for such nightmare scenarios.

“Houston is designed to deal with a major rain event that just blows through,” said Marc Bateman, a clinical engineering manager with GE Healthcare who serves the Houston Methodist hospital system. “It’s much harder when it’s a rinse-repeat cycle.”

Still, Bateman said Wednesday that he and the various teams at each community hospital and the Texas Medical Center were able to pull together to keep the hospitals open and operational through the hurricane and its crippling aftermath.

“The storm was not typical and resulted in some on-the-fly changes to our plans,” Bateman wrote in an email to AAMI. “Some of the designated ride-out staff could not make it in, so we reached out to our recovery teams to have them come in when it was safe.”

The hospital system employed shuttles to bring people in and set up a website where employees who had housing or supplies could connect with colleagues who were in need.

“The staff that can come in are going above and beyond to support our patients,” Bateman said.

That can-do spirit was evident in multiple reports coming out of the Houston area. The New York Times reported on Aug. 28 that officials learned some valuable lessons from earlier hurricanes.

“As of Monday morning, the fortification of the Texas Medical Center in Houston appears to have paid off for most of its 23 hospitals,” the newspaper reported. “Submarine doors were locked on Saturday afternoon, protecting foundations that had flooded catastrophically after Allison in 2001, knocking out power and forcing emergency patient evacuations.”

Other healthcare facilities were not so lucky, so inundated by water that they had to transport patients to safer—and drier—ground.

“Some hospitals in the flood area have closed until it is over, and many are in cars evacuating,” Patricia Hercules, RN, director of system clinical education with the Memorial Hermann System in Houston, wrote AAMI on Monday.

Carol Wyatt, director of healthcare technology management (HTM) for the northern region of Baylor Scott & White Health, is in the much drier Dallas-Fort Worth area. She said she expects that many healthcare facilities in southeast Texas are just beginning to assess the damage to equipment and determine what they may need in terms of assistance.

“It’s too early in the game for HTM,” she wrote Monday. “We’ll have to wait until Houston hospitals determine their needs.”

Like many HTM professionals, David Stiles watched the disaster unfold with sympathy for his colleagues in Texas and a new sense of urgency about what each and every hospital should be considering.

“How well prepared are we for public emergencies and unexpected local and regional disasters?” he asked in a post on the AAMIBlog. “Do we remember our last disaster training session, or better yet, did we learn lessons from the last real disaster?”

Stiles, director of the Biomedical Engineering Department and central equipment services at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Long Beach, CA., noted that all healthcare facilities are required to draft and adopt emergency operations plans. Stiles stressed that he and his HTM peers play a crucial role in preparing for disasters because so much of modern healthcare relies on sophisticated medical devices and technology.

“HTM professionals are essential to ensuring disaster preparedness,” Stiles wrote.” For our colleagues who are—right now—hip deep in evacuation plans, emergency repairs, relocations, and asset utilization, we are hoping only for your success and the safety and well-being of your patients and staff.”