On September 13th Hurricane Ike slammed into the Texas gulf coast. Ike moved through the center of Houston resulting in millions of dollars of damage power outages to 90 percent of the population. Fortunately the loss of life has been minimal. Because we had advance warning, many Houstonians were able to "shelter in place" while riding the storm out.
For me, this meant filling ice chests, buying batteries, bottled water and non-perishable foods. The area health care facilities faced a much larger challenge. Not only did they have to prepare buildings for the hurricane, arrangements had to be made to maintain patient care during and after the storm. What follows are the preparations and immediate aftermath of the facility where I'm working.
1. Facilities on the east side of the city were closed. Patients were transferred further inland to facilities less likely to suffer significant damage. NICU patients were transferred as far as Austin and San Antonio.
2. Any patient who could safely be discharged was sent home to open up beds for the incoming transfer patients.
3. Full operations were continued until noon on Friday. At that time all employees except those who would be staying through the weekend were sent home. Visitors were given the choice of staying or leaving. Those leaving had to leave by noon. Those staying had to provide their own food and bottled water.
4. Those employees who were staying the weekend were given Thursday off to make their preparations. When they returned Friday, they brought clothes to work through the weekend and provided their own food and bottled water. The cafeteria closed Friday at noon.
5. Flashlights were issued to each department and nursing station. Conference rooms were designated sleeping rooms. Bottled water was delivered to each nursing station.
1. Electricity was lost. The hospital ran on generator power until during the day Monday. The most noticeable effect was inadequate air circulation and warm temperatures.
2. Water pressure was lost. All the toilets and faucets in the building stopped working. Tap water was considered "dirty" and not for consumption. Large jugs of the dirty water were provided to flush toilets. The toilets began working Sunday afternoon. Water was cleared for consumption Monday evening. During meals patients received only water, coffee or tea.
3. Because of lack of water pressure, patients could not be dialyzed until Monday.
4. Patient meals were limited to sandwiches and easily prepared foods. Because of the generators the food was warm.
5. Houston was filled with downed trees which blocked roads and intersections. Some employees were unable to make it to work to relieve those already there. Others couldn't leave because they couldn't get home. This improved by Monday.
6. Throughout Houston cell phone service took a dive. Getting a call through was next to impossible and took multiple attempts. Those in the hospital were unable to contact families and friends outside the facility.
7. Discharging patients became difficult. Facilities that normally would accept them are unable due to the lack of power. Others can't be sent home because their homes have no electricity for medical equipment or have begun unlivable. As of Wednesday this remains a problem.
8. There was one bright spot. Physical therapy was up and functioning Sunday. We had a full staff and saw every patient. It took each of nine hours but no one missed therapy.