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Austin-area hospitals respond after reports of water outages, employees using bags for restroom purposes

Water outages have been reported across the Austin area.

AUSTIN, Texas — Three area hospitals have issued statements after reports of water outages inside their facilities.

St. David's

Staff at St. David's South Austin found notices saying the medical center had run out of water, a nurse told KVUE on Wednesday. 

A nurse reported that they were at St. David's when the water was cut off. The nurse found a notice that said the water went out. The notice then listed some instructions for using the restroom, such as to not put toilet paper in the toilet when urinating, and to use trash bags to remove feces from the toilet and to then place it in a biohazard bag.

RELATED: LIST: Local water outages and boil notices amid winter weather

A spokesperson for St. David's issued the following statement Wednesday evening:

"Along with a number of other hospitals in the Austin area, St. David’s South Austin Medical Center lost water pressure today from the City of Austin. Water feeds the facility's boiler, so as a result, it is also losing heat. The hospital currently has just under 300 patients.

An incident command team is doing the following:

  • Working with the City of Austin to find an immediate solution to the lack of water pressure
  • Working with the City of Austin to find a transportation solution to get patients who are medically able to be discharged home safely
  • Transporting patients most in need to other hospitals, when there is available capacity
  • Distributing bottles and jugs of water for patients and employees to drink and wash their hands
  • Working to get water trucks to the hospital as quickly as possible
  • Working with the City of Austin to secure portable toilets
  • Asking employees currently on shift to continue to stay at the hospital
  • Communicating with families of current patients about the situation
  • Canceling all non-emergent procedures

Through our national partner, HCA Healthcare, we are able to secure and source food, linens, medication and supplies needed to care for and serve our patients.

Because this is a state-wide emergency situation that is also impacting other hospitals within the Austin area, no one hospital currently has the capacity to accept transport of a large number of patients. The health, comfort and safety of our patients and staff are always our top priority. I am personally directing every resource available within our healthcare system to find solutions to best care for and serve our patients during this challenging time.”

RELATED: Austin Water asks customers to not drip faucets amid water shortage

A few hours later, Austin Water announced that the city would be entering a boil water notice city-wide. Austin Water said Feb. 18 it is working with the City's Emergency Operations Center to address the needs of critical customers, including hospitals and power plants.

On Thursday, St. David's said it is working with its supply chain to provide water for patients, staff and hospital operations. It began supplementing onsite water inventory last week and supplies are continuing to arrive.

St. David's South Austin Medical Center was able to get a water truck to alleviate the issues on the heating system, creating a closed-loop system in the hospital to keep its boiler warm. The hospital is no longer experiencing heating issues.

Out of caution, on Wednesday St. David's transported approximately 30 patients who were either vulnerable or could easily be cared for at another facility. It is working with the City of Austin to resolve the water outage, but has been unsuccessful in resolving the water system issue affecting service and water pressure.

The hospital said in a statement on Thursday:

"Due to the ongoing water system issue affecting service and water pressure to much of the city, we have now lost water pressure at St. David’s Medical Center and continue to experience low-water pressure at Heart Hospital of Austin. We don’t have any heat issues at those facilities, and so far, have been successful in maintaining regular operations. We are deploying water tank trucks onsite at three hospitals – St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, St. David’s Medical Center and Heart Hospital of Austin – to connect and pressurize their systems due to water outages and/or low-pressure. While the duration of this issue remains unknown at this time, all St. David’s HealthCare facilities are prepared to handle the situation and have a sufficient supply of water to help ensure that we can continue to provide our patients with exceptional care.

"All hospitals have maintained power throughout the weather event, and we have not had to go on emergency power generation because we were exempted from any mandated power blackouts.

"One of our biggest challenges has been the inability to discharge patients due to mobility and transportation issues, as well as power and water outages at their homes, and limited access to shelters in the area. Fortunately, so far, we have been able to manage through that, and things should get better over the next couple of days.

"We have sheltered hundreds of employees in our hospitals so they did not have to travel to and from the facilities while the roadways were unsafe and could remain onsite to continue to care for patients. They have been rotating working and sleeping, which made it possible for us to maintain staffing and coverage. Our employees have been nothing short of phenomenal. They are tired, but spirits are good, and it is their resiliency and tenacity that has helped us weather this storm and remain focused on keeping the needs of our patients first."

Baylor Scott & White

Meanwhile Baylor Scott & White Emergency Medical Center - Cedar Park is temporarily closed due to a winter weather-related water leak. The medical center is working as quickly as possible to resolve the issue and safely reopen.

Patient care is continuing at other Baylor Scott & White medical centers with some rescheduling of non-urgent surgeries.

Ascension Seton

Ascension Seton responded Wednesday, saying it also was experiencing water problems:

"Our highest priority is the safety and wellbeing of the patients and communities we are privileged to serve. While extreme weather conditions have caused intermittent water issues at several Ascension Seton sites of care, facility teams are working quickly to resolve the issues. All Ascension Seton hospitals have emergency response plans in place to provide uninterrupted patient care, including access to backup generators for each care site. Throughout the year, our hospitals prepare for a variety of emergency situations, which includes testing of backup power sources and reviewing and updating emergency response plans on a regular basis.

Ascension Seton leadership continues to review operations for our network of hospitals and evaluate staffing and resources based on the rapidly evolving weather conditions and community needs. Effective today, Ascension Seton is rescheduling elective surgeries at all sites of care to preserve inpatient hospital bed capacity and redirect clinical personnel. We will notify all patients impacted by this change, and continue to evaluate operations on a daily basis."

Water issues have been reported across the City of Austin as a winter storm moves through Texas, particularly at apartment complexes. City officials have said they are working to ensure that hospitals and other critical infrastructure do not lose power.

Boil water notices have also been issued in surrounding cities in Central Texas. 

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