Hurricane Harvey: Austin medical centers treating evacuated patients

Hospitals transfer patients here; cancer, dialysis patients also need care

The Austin medical community has been opening its doors to Hurricane Harvey evacuees from around South and Southeast Texas all week.

Thursday afternoon St. David’s HealthCare received two patients from Baptist Hospital Beaumont, which had to move its patients when the city lost its water supply. One went to North Austin Medical Center, the other to Round Rock Medical Center.

The hospital has received 12 patients now from areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, including four critically ill infants, who were helicoptered to St. David’s Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care units Wednesday from Houston.

The hospital transfers began last Thursday with Dell Children’s Medical Center receiving seven infants from Corpus Christi in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey. As of Wednesday, the Seton Healthcare Family hospitals had received 31 patients, including the seven Corpus Christi infants. Patients are coming from Victoria, Corpus Christi, Houston, El Campo, Bay City, Columbus and La Grange.

Both hospital systems have been preparing for more direct hospital-to-hospital transfers throughout the week. Often those haven’t come to fruition or the patients were sent to Dallas instead. The hospitals’ staffs have been working with the city’s Emergency Operations Center to coordinate placement of patients and care of evacuees from Harvey-affected areas.

Local hospitals have seen hundreds of evacuees come through their doors needing help with everything from medication refills to more serious conditions like heart-related illnesses.

Austinites who typically receive cancer care in Houston at centers such as MD Anderson Cancer Center have had to find new ways to get their treatments. Cancer patients from evacuated areas who are now here also have had to make alternative plans. Texas Oncology has been working with its 176 sites statewide and with MD Anderson to take care of these patients. As of Wednesday, Austin-area sites had seen 12 such patients, mostly Austinites who typically go to Houston for care.

Dr. Debra Pratt, a vice president at Texas Oncology and a breast cancer specialist, encourages people who have been cut off from their regular treatment to call Texas Oncology. Its sites can accommodate them, she says, and will work with them to find their records either by accessing MD Anderson’s patient portal or by Texas Oncology’s own records.

“If you’re in active treatment, you probably don’t want to wait,” Pratt said. “It could diminish the effectiveness of treatment.”

Patients can call 888-864-4226 to get connected to care.

DaVita Kidney Care has seen 62 patients come into its 11 Central Texas centers since Hurricane Harvey evacuations began. Many of them have been coming from Corpus Christi and Victoria, but now DaVita centers are starting to see people from Houston and Beaumont.

People who need dialysis often need it three days a week for three to five hours a day. DaVita has added more stations to accommodate more patients.

“Dialysis is a life-saving procedure,” said Laura Waters, regional operations director in Austin. Patients could go a few days without it if they restricted their fluid intake and diet, but not having dialysis could lead to death, she said

Before Harvey hit, DaVita gave all its patients in affected areas emergency documents that outline their medications and treatment plan. Patients also were given purple wristbands to identify them as dialysis patients if they showed up at a shelter.

DaVita now has checked in with their patients served by its 150 locations affected by Harvey’s path to either bring them to care at different location or make sure they can get to their usual locations. About 70 percent of its Houston locations are now open.

Patients who are cut off from their usual care can call 800-400-8331 to arrange for care.

DaVita also will be sending employees from Austin to the Houston area to relieve some of the employees there who need to deal with their own housing losses, Waters says.

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