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Houston cancer clinic and trauma center suspend services

Hurricane Harvey has forced a cancer clinic and a trauma center to suspend services.

Ben Taub Hospital, one of the nation’s busiest emergency departments which cares for many of the city’s poor and uninsured, transferred 60 of its 350 patients to other facilities as water and sewage flooded the basement.

Only the designated ‘ride-out team’ had been working in the hospital, with water levels around the city too high for additional staff – including the hospital’s chief medical officer – to get in. 

The nearby University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center also canceled outpatient services, appointments and surgeries at all Houston-area locations as high water surrounded their facilities. 

Other hospitals also bore the brunt of the storm – and the rain on Sunday even blocked attempts to transfer patients to safer facilities. 

Ben Taub Hospital, one of the nation’s busiest trauma centers, and MD Anderson Cancer Center, a world-leading clinic, were forced to suspend services for most patients amid flooding across Houston. Pictured: men looking for people that need to be evacuated

As of Monday morning, San Antonio Fire Department firefighters was finally able to transfer about 800 hospital patients from Houston and other areas affected by Harvey.

The rain has affected pharmacy, food service and other key operations at all medical facilities.

As of Monday, Ben Taub Hospital was taking much needed deliveries of food and fresh linens after spending the weekend short-staffed and with dwindling supplies, said Bryan McLeod, a spokesman for the Houston hospital’s parent company, Harris Health System.  

‘This is setting the table,’ he said early Tuesday. ‘Eventually, when the rain stops, people resume their lives and get back out on the roads, we’re going to see more trauma events.’

But for now, although the facility has 440 beds, staff said they are struggling to cater for more than 200 at the moment. 

The city had an EMS convoy in Houston consisting of 12 workers, two ambulances and one am-bus – a ‘gigantic’ ambulance with multiple beds, he said.

The situation at Ben Taub briefly raised fears and memories of the dire straits at some New Orleans hospitals where patients were trapped for days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Harris Health System operates two other medical facilities – Clinton East, a 50-bed nursing home whose residents were moved Friday to Ben Taub because of concerns Clinton East would flood, and LBJ, a hospital on the northeast side of downtown Houston that now has about 150 people from the community seeking shelter, ‘another 150 mouths to feed,’ McLeod said.

No other Houston hospitals reported serious damage but several canceled outpatient services because of the flooding. 

West Houston Medical Center spokeswoman Selena Mejia said that the hospital is not offering outpatient services but has admitted a few critical care patients from other city hospitals.

Ben Taub and other hospitals in Houston’s medical complex shored up their defenses after the city was swamped by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. 

That storm caused a blackout, inundated medical center streets with up to 9 feet of water, and forced evacuations of patients, some airlifted from rooftops by helicopter. Damage totaled more than $2 billion.

After a review of the area’s flood weaknesses, member hospitals moved their electrical vaults and backup generators out of basements to areas above flood level. 

Scores of existing buildings were fitted with flood gates, and new buildings were built surrounded by berms. 

Underground tunnels were outfitted with 100 submarine doors, some 12 feet tall. The $756 million bill was paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; millions more were spent on the public works projects.