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

View of a flooded street
Severe flooding has left employees and patients stranded at several Houston hospitals. File photo of a flooded street by Getty/Creative RF/

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was forced to close nine locations Monday due to severe flooding from Hurricane Harvey—now a tropical storm—and several Texas hospitals have had to evacuate patients and operate on backup systems.

The devastation from the storm led Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to declare a public health emergency in Texas. The action will allow the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services to waive certain documentation requirements so hospitals and nursing homes that don’t have access to patient records can care for evacuated patients.

At least five people have died and more than a dozen injuries have been reported in the wake of the storm.

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

HHS has also helped evacuate 182 patients from three hospitals in Victoria, Texas; sent 53,000 pounds of medical equipment and supplies to Texas and Louisiana, activated the AABB blood disaster task force to evaluate the need for nationwide blood donations, and has more than 500 personnel on the ground and 1,000 additional people on alert.

Employees who were at MD Anderson when the hurricane hit have remained on duty to care for patients. But roads to MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center’s campus remained impassable and the world-renowned hospital told employees to stay home today and tomorrow.

The images of flooding and stranded residents and patients were reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, when dozens of hospital and nursing home patients died.

Ben Taub Hospital was supposed to evacuate patients on Sunday but was unable to follow through because rescuers could not reach its 350 patients due to the floods, The New York Times reports. The newspaper reports six to 10 hospitals were also evacuated. Despite disaster preparations, Darrell Pile, chief executive of the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, said no one was prepared for the “epic level” of the hurricane.

In the wake of natural disasters like Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, many hospitals have been rebuilt to withstand the worst of Mother Nature. Submarine doors were locked at the hospitals of Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas Children’s Hospital, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital to protect lower floors, according to the Houston Chronicle.

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