Flooding disrupts care at Houston hospital, cancer center

Officials prepared Monday to evacuate one of the nation’s busiest trauma centers as flooding from Harvey threatened the hospital’s supply of medicine and food.

A spokesman at Houston’s Office of Emergency Management said that all 350 patients at Ben Taub Hospital would be moved, hopefully within a day. Floodwater and sewage got into the basement of the hospital’s main building and affected pharmacy, food service and other key operations. “Our kitchen is shut down so we’re relying on dry foods” and have enough to last through dinner Tuesday, Bryan McLeod, a spokesman for the hospital’s parent company, Harris Health System, said Monday afternoon. Heavy rains had thwarted plans Sunday to move the patients to neighboring hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, a large medical complex southwest of downtown.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center also canceled outpatient services, appointments and surgeries at all Houston-area locations through Tuesday, and told patients not to attempt to travel because of high water in the area of the medical complex. Patients who already had been admitted are receiving care as usual, a spokeswoman said.

Some cancer patients who travel to the renowned center for treatment from other parts of the country may have their plans disrupted due to Houston airport closures and flight cancellations that are expected to continue until at least Thursday.

Other hospitals also bore the brunt of the storm. As of Monday morning, San Antonio Fire Department firefighters had transferred about 800 hospital patients from Houston and other areas affected by Harvey, said department spokesman Woody Woodward. The city had an EMS convoy in Houston consisting of 12 workers, two ambulances and one am-bus — a “gigantic” ambulance with multiple beds, he said.

The situation at Ben Taub seemed the worst, and raised fears and memories of the dire straits at some New Orleans hospitals, where dozens of patients were trapped for days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Ben Taub, a large public hospital that cares for many of the city’s poor and uninsured, asked authorities for evacuation help on Sunday “but at this point we haven’t been able to transfer a single patient,” McLeod said. Harris operates two other medical facilities — Clinton East, a 50-bed nursing home whose residents were moved Friday to Ben Taub because of concerns Clinton East would flood, and LBJ, a hospital on the northeast side of downtown Houston that now has about 150 people from the community seeking shelter, “another 150 mouths to feed,” McLeod said.

Residents of another nursing home, La Bella Vita in nearby Dickinson, Texas, were evacuated Sunday after a photo showing elderly residents sitting in waist-deep water went viral. Tim McIntosh, whose mother owns the facility, told The Associated Press Monday that the National Guard rescued 20 people about three hours after he shared the photo on Twitter.

“They are all doing fine,” said McIntosh. He said owner Trudy Lampson had made arrangements to evacuate the residents earlier, but local authorities told her to stay put.

“The nursing home had to follow protocol because it’s a big ordeal to evacuate it,” he said. “These ladies are on wheelchairs and most of them on oxygen.”

No other Houston hospitals reported serious flooding but several canceled outpatient services because of the flooding. West Houston Medical Center spokeswoman Selena Mejia said that the hospital is not offering outpatient services but has admitted a few critical care patients from other city hospitals.

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