Publication Date August 30, 2017 | WSJ

Already Strained by Harvey, Hospitals Brace for New Wave of Patients

United States
Employees at Christus Spohn Hospital-Shoreline in Corpus Christi prepare to receive injured from outlying communities over the weekend. Credit: Rachel Denny Clow, AP

Signals Summary: Mass evacuations can lead to medical surges that stress healthcare systems hundreds of miles away from disaster zones. Worsening extreme weather events due to climate change increase the risk of patient surges that overwhelm existing infrastructure. Climate-fueled disasters such as Hurricane Harvey can damage healthcare facilities and vehicles, disrupt supply chains for medical supplies and equipment, block essential transportation routes, and destroy patient records—making it harder for health professionals to get to work and for patients to get timely medical care.

Article Excerpt: Already strained hospitals that managed to remain open amid Tropical Storm Harvey’s pounding rains and flooding are bracing for an influx of new patients as roadways begin to clear.

In Houston and along the Gulf Coast, 27 hospitals have either closed or evacuated some patients since Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane Friday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The closures are increasing the stress on remaining hospitals, which are steeling themselves for a surge in demand.

“We know what’s coming,” said Alex Loessin, a spokeswoman for Memorial Hermann Health System, which runs hospitals and clinics in the Houston area.

The health system on Tuesday reopened two urgent-care centers in the Houston area to treat residents who have been cut off from medical care by flooding, with the hope it would alleviate an expected rush to the health system’s emergency rooms in the coming days, Ms. Loessin said. Memorial Hermann planned to open four more urgent-care centers Wednesday, she said.

Beyond the 27 hospitals that have closed or evacuated some patients, another 25 hospitals have reported storm-related problems that may leave them unable to accept new patients, said Darrell Pile, chief executive officer of the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, which is coordinating disaster response across counties hit by the storm.

An estimated 1,500 patients along the Gulf Coast have been evacuated from hospitals as a result of Harvey, Mr. Pile said late Tuesday.

Houston hospitals owned by HCA Healthcare Inc. said late Tuesday they would transfer two dozen patients to Dallas-area hospitals “due to rising water.”