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August 25, 2017

Hurricane Harvey is expected to wreak havoc on the Gulf Coast. Here's how hospitals are preparing.

Daily Briefing

    Health care providers along the Gulf Coast are preparing for Hurricane Harvey, which is projected to be the most powerful storm to hit the United States in more than a decade.

    Officials expect the storm to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane—indicating winds of at least 111 miles per hour—Friday night or Saturday morning near Corpus Christi, Texas, with heavy rainfall beginning earlier. Harvey is then expected to hover over the Texas coast for several days, which the National Hurricane Center said could result in some areas seeing nearly 3 feet of rain. The storm is expected to hit parts of Louisiana by early next week.

    The National Weather Service said flooding from Harvey could make some areas "uninhabitable for an extended period" and lead to "structural damage to buildings, with many washing away" and "streets and parking lots becom[ing] rivers of raging water with underpasses submerged."

    Some Texas coastal cities have ordered mandatory evacuations, while officials in other areas have thus far urged residents to evacuate voluntarily.

    How health care providers are preparing

    As the storm approaches, hospitals and medical groups have been taking precautions and preparing to help those in need.

    The 10 critically ill infants in Corpus Christi-based Driscoll Children's Hospital's NICU were evacuated to Cook Children's Hospital's ICU in Fort Worth, Texas, out of concern that power outages could disable the infants' ventilators. The hospital used planes—including two provided by Children's Health in Dallas—to transport the infants two at a time between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

    Three Houston-area University of Texas Physicians walk-in clinics will close Saturday, a precaution to protect "the safety of patients and the staff," said clinic network COO Andrew Casas. After the devastation brought by Tropical Storm Allison 16 years ago, the clinic network installed battery-powered backups for its refrigerators to keep medications safe. "We lost a lot of vaccine in Allison," Casas said.

    At Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System and Texas Children's Hospital, clinicians have been evaluating patients to determine if they are stable enough for early discharge.

    Memorial Hermann is also stocking its facilities with enough medical supplies, food, water, and linens to last for four days, said Tom Flanagan, the system's vice president of trauma and disaster preparedness. The system also is urging patients who do not have a seven-day supply of their prescriptions to preemptively request a refill.

    Flanagan told the Houston Chronicle that Memorial Hermann is not planning to cancel elective procedures, but said that could change. Officials have printed out paper lists with appointments that are scheduled through Tuesday in case facilities lose power and staff need to cancel appointments.

    Houston Methodist officials are meeting regularly to monitor the storm, and say the hospital's hurricane preparedness drills have made staff prepared to respond as needed.

    Meanwhile, government officials are urging residents to take appropriate precautions. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told a Houston TV station, "A lot of people are taking this storm for granted thinking it may not pose much of a danger to them. Please heed warnings and evacuate as soon as possible"(Achenbach et al., Washington Post, 8/25; New York Times, 8/25; Graczyk, AP/ABC News, 8/24; Deam, Houston Chronicle, 8/24; Rice, Dallas Morning News, 8/24).

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