Hurricane Harvey aftermath: Public health crisis continues in Texas, HHS sets up medical shelter, more hospitals shutter

Rescue workers traverse floodwaters
As many as 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated from flooded homes in Houston and surrounding cities and towns due to Hurricane Harvey. Image: U.S. Dept. of Defense

The devastating floods from Hurricane Harvey have pushed healthcare professionals to the limit, trapping medical staff in hospitals with dwindling supplies of food and medicine, and forcing more healthcare facilities to close their doors and evacuate patients by boat.

RELATED: HHS declares public health emergency in Texas as Hurricane Harvey forces hospitals to close, evacuate patients

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which had declared a public health emergency in Texas over the weekend, on Monday announced it is setting up a medical shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston to provide care to thousands of residents who have been displaced due to the rising flood waters. The 250-bed medical station is expected to be up and running by Wednesday.

The agency, which also declared a public health emergency in Louisiana, has also readied two units to be sent to that state if needed.  

As many as 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated from flooded homes in Houston and surrounding cities and towns, according to The Washington Post, and the death toll as of Monday rose to nine people.

The situation is critical. More hospitals, including Memorial Hermann’s Sugar Land hospital, has had to evacuate patients and temporarily shut down, The Houston Chronicle reports. Ben Taub Hospital has resumed its plans to transfer the most critical patients to other facilities as long as roads are passable. Food was expected to run out at Ben Taub by Tuesday night but county health officials were trying to get a supply of dry food to the facility.

Bryan McLeod, a spokesman for Harris Health System, which includes Ben Taub Hospital, told The Atlantic that the biggest risk right now is running out of supplies, including medicine, because high water has limited access to the facility. On-site staff, who have been at the hospital since Friday afternoon, are also fatigued.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has canceled outpatient services, appointment and surgeries through Tuesday. But inpatients are receiving care, a hospital spokeswoman told The Washington Post. West Houston Medical Center also canceled outpatient services but has accepted critical care patients from other hospitals.

Residents are also vulnerable to infectious diseases, such as exposure to MRSA and E. Coli, and health officials are warning them to get tetanus shots to protect themselves against the disease.