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‘Such dire straits’: Power failures have plunged some Texas hospitals into a crisis.


Chaotic scenes were playing out all over Texas on Thursday as hospitals faced an onslaught of problems from the brutal storm: wintry indoor temperatures, a dearth of generators, acute water shortages and a spike in emergency room visits by patients in desperate need of dialysis treatment and oxygen tanks.

“We’re hauling in water on trucks in order to flush toilets,” said Roberta L. Schwartz, an executive vice president and the chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist, which operates seven hospitals around the country’s fourth-largest city. Water, she said, was in such short supply that health workers were using bottled water for chemotherapy treatments.

“We actually had a rainstorm after the ice storm, so we collected the rainwater because we needed it,” Ms. Schwartz added.

The tumult comes at an already vexing juncture for hospitals in Texas, nearly a year into a pandemic that has stretched many to their limits. While new coronavirus cases in Texas have fallen sharply, from an average of more than 20,000 a day a month ago to less than half that in recent days, much of the state is struggling as the virus continues to spread and as vaccine distribution was slowed by this week’s storms.

Hospitals such as St. David’s South Austin Medical Center said they were transferring some patients to other facilities as they desperately tried to conserve resources. In a statement, David Huffstutler, the chief executive of St. David’s HealthCare, said the hospital was working to get water trucks and portable toilets as quickly as possible.

In Dallas, parts of the ceiling collapsed at the Baylor University Medical Center after a pipe burst, spraying water directly into the emergency room. Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said workers had made initial repairs that allowed patients to continue getting treated there.

The scenes took place in a state where health care workers have grappled with repeated crises in recent years: Hurricanes. Floods. Tropical storms. Blackouts. Pandemic surges.

Dr. Sarah Olstyn Martinez, an emergency room doctor in an Austin hospital, bluntly described the situation on Facebook: “There is no where to put anyone.”

“I don’t want to incite panic but I also want people to understand the severity of the situation in hopes that people will stay at home,” Dr. Martinez wrote, adding, “We are bunking patients 2 to a room and boarding patients in hallways.”

“I’ve never seen a city medical system in such dire straits as we are in Austin right now,” Dr. Martinez continued. “Covid surges were nothing compared to the current situation.”

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