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Nation & World

Texas Hospital Administrator On How Her Facilities Are Handling Water Supply Issues

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Texas hospitals are facing a water crisis on top of a power crisis. All this amidst a public health crisis. Cold and ice have paralyzed water supplies across the state, bursting pipes, freezing pumps. And that's left hospitals to, in some cases, collect rainwater to flush toilets or to use bottled water for chemo treatments. All that while nearly 8,000 COVID patients fill the state's hospitals. Lynn Falcone is the CEO of the Cuero Regional Hospital system - that's east of San Antonio - and joins me now.

Some of this may be obvious, but are there specific concerns you have as a medical facility that people may not understand when it comes to having a water shortage?

LYNN FALCONE: Well, when it comes to having water in a health care facility, you really have a hard time running and operating. You can't run your sterilizers. You're going to go to all paper goods for serving your patients food. And how well can you prepare food? So being able to shelter in place for up to 96 hours, which is kind of a standard that everyone shoots for, is a lot larger challenge than what people really would think about, especially for large hospitals. It's very hard to go without water or have just enough bottled water to manage for that time.

CORNISH: Were you in communication with other hospital administrators? Was there a sense of panic?

FALCONE: Yes, I was in touch with many other hospitals during this. I don't think it was a sense of panic. It was a sense of we got to lay out a plan and how do we work together sharing supplies. As the hospital administrator, I saw panic in my staff who were home and had no water and heat for their families. We held patient discharges because I couldn't send a mom and a brand-new baby home with no heat and no water or a patient off of our med surg floor that's, you know, elderly. I can't send them home with no heat and no water. So we held many patients just to make sure this passed.

CORNISH: If a lot of hospitals across the state are dealing with this, how does it complicate care? What kind of scrambling is required if you can't just send a patient down the road?

FALCONE: So by Wednesday, we had two stroke patients, a trauma patient and a bariatric septic patient. Victoria wouldn't take them because they had no water, so we got denied there. San Antonio couldn't take them. They had some water issues, but their roads were still impassable. The bariatric patient, my EMS had to take four hours away. We had to hold and stable as best we could, and we did well. That patient ended up in Laredo, Texas.

We did have to send EMS on some bad roads to get the stroke patient into San Antonio. The other stroke patient we were able to manage here. And we had a trauma patient they probably would never have brought here. And that patient expired, but I don't believe that patient would have survived no matter where they would have taken that patient.

CORNISH: But it drives home the sense that the clock is ticking - right? - as you're...

FALCONE: Absolutely.

CORNISH: ...Trying to deal with this crisis - this power crisis and water crisis - and take care of patients in the midst of a pandemic.

FALCONE: Absolutely.

CORNISH: President Biden said today he'll sign a disaster declaration opening up federal aid for Texas. Can you say what, if any, specific support you need right now from the government?

FALCONE: I don't know that I can give you anything specific yet until I look and get a better handle on what our repairs - what's going to be specifically required and what specific expense comes out of that. I think the aid is nice. I would rather see something to come out to really fix the grid. I think that is in the future. Whether it is 105 or 110 in Texas, which we get normally used to, or whether it's another hurricane or whether it's another freeze, I'm not confident that our state power grid can manage it.

CORNISH: OK. Lynn Falcone is the CEO of the Cuero Regional Hospital system in Texas.

Thank you for your time. Best of luck in the next few days.

FALCONE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.