Texas' power outages, water shortages put bigger strain on hospitals

Hospitals from Austin to Houston to Galveston are facing water problems.

February 18, 2021, 3:50 PM

As a historic winter storm knocks out power and bursts pipes across Texas, hospitals in the lone star state are facing additional stress.

Hospitals, already contending with COVID-19 patients, are now helping people whose supplemental oxygen tanks have run out, or those whose home medical equipment requires electricity and must now seek power in emergency departments, Lori Upton, vice president of the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, told ABC News.

The Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council covers 187 hospitals and 25 counties in the state and helps coordinate between providers, responders and health care partners.

PHOTO: Krystan Hood sits with her two young children inside her heated car after cold weather knocked out power in Corpus Christi, Texas, Feb. 16, 2021.
Krystan Hood sits with her two young children inside her heated car after cold weather knocked out power in Corpus Christi, Texas, Feb. 16, 2021.
Courtney Sacco/Caller-Times/USA Today Network via Reuters
Jason Miszell and his wife Debra Bracey check their smartphones while taking a shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Houston, Feb. 17, 2021.
Jason Miszell, left, and his wife Debra Bracey check their smartphones while taking a shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Houston, Texas, Feb. 17, 2021.
Go Nakamura/Reuters

With power out and supplies running thin, people are turning to hospitals for what they're accustomed to getting homebound, like a feeding tube or an external defibrillator that needs batteries to recharge, Upton said.

As of Wednesday, about 800 people were being held in emergency departments for oxygen or electricity for their equipment, she said.

Over 450,000 customers in Texas remained without power Thursday afternoon. More than 900 public water systems and 164 counties in Texas have reported disruptions in service due to the weather, affecting more than 13.6 million people, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Galveston Mayor Craig Brown told "Good Morning America" Thursday that the city's hospital "ran dangerously low on water" due to burst pipes. Now that they've been able to refill the tanks, they're back up and running, he said. 

PHOTO: Volunteers help distribute water to local residents at a warming center and shelter after record-breaking winter temperatures, as local media reports most residents are without electricity, in Galveston, Texas on Feb. 17, 2021. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Volunteers help distribute water to local residents at a warming center and shelter after record-breaking winter temperatures, as local media reports most residents are without electricity, in Galveston, Texas on Feb. 17, 2021. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Adrees Latif/Reuters
PHOTO: People line up to fill their empty propane tanks on Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. Temperatures stayed below freezing Tuesday, and many residents were without electricity.
People line up to fill their empty propane tanks on Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. Temperatures stayed below freezing Tuesday, and many residents were without electricity.
Brett Coomer/AP

Brown called the electricity and water crisis "worse than a hurricane."

"In a hurricane you can go to the mainland and get away from this. In this particular situation, no matter where you go in Texas, you still have a concern that is similar to what we have here," he said.

PHOTO: A woman carries bottled water she received from a warming center and shelter after record-breaking winter temperatures, as local media report most residents are without electricity, in Galveston, Texas on Feb. 17, 2021.
A woman carries bottled water she received from a warming center and shelter after record-breaking winter temperatures, as local media report most residents are without electricity, in Galveston, Texas on Feb. 17, 2021.
Adrees Latif/Reuters
PHOTO: Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on Feb. 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas.
Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on Feb. 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states with a mix of freezing temperatures and precipitation.
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

In Houston, hospitals are operating but many have reduced water pressure, ABC Houston station KTRK reported.

Two Austin area hospitals have also faced water outages, ABC affiliate KVUE reported.

Boil water advisories were issued in Houston and Austin.

There's also the issue of icy roadways, making it more treacherous for ambulances to transport patients and for hospital workers to get to their shifts safety.

Medical City Healthcare hospitals in Dallas and Fort Worth have "provided lodging and food for hundreds of colleagues to assure staff would not have to travel on dangerous roads and would be available to provide patient care," a hospital spokesperson said in a statement. "We’ve had hundreds of colleagues stay overnight in our hospitals across our system. It’s remarkable. Everyone is pitching in. Our leaders and office colleagues are are picking up colleagues from hotels and homes, changing linens, delivering meals."

PHOTO: Medical City Healthcare employees pitch in to help during the Texas snowstorm.
Medical City Healthcare employees pitch in to help during the Texas snowstorm.
Medical City Healthcare
PHOTO: Medical City Healthcare employees pitch in to help during the Texas snowstorm.
Medical City Healthcare employees pitch in to help during the Texas snowstorm.
Medical City Healthcare
PHOTO: Medical City Healthcare employees pitch in to help during the Texas snowstorm.
Medical City Healthcare employees pitch in to help during the Texas snowstorm.
Medical City Healthcare

Click here for tips to stay safe during a power outage and click here to learn how to keep your water safe during a boil water advisory.

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