How Houston hospitals prepared for Hurricane Harvey


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MILES O'BRIEN: Some of the most critical pieces of any city's infrastructure are its hospitals. In a major flood event like Harvey, they are also among the most vulnerable.

We turn now to Bill McKeon, who is the president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, a sprawling health complex southwest of downtown Houston. I spoke to him by Skype a short time ago.

Bill McKeon, thank you for being with us.

Give us an idea how the medical center system was prepared and what it did as Harvey approached.

BILL MCKEON, President, Texas Medical Center: We anticipated to be enduring four or five days of it. I don't think anyone planned for the amount of rain, the record-breaking rainfall that has hit Houston.

We have made huge investment in the Texas Medical Center. It's the largest medical city in the world. And we have built storm gates around all of our hospitals and clinics, which have protected all of our buildings.

And even though we had streets filled with water, none of our facilities were affected by the flooding.

MILES O'BRIEN: Tell us a little bit about these floodgates. As I understand it, that came after a storm in 2001, Allison.

BILL MCKEON: That's true.

MILES O'BRIEN: Give us an idea of what the investment was and whether you feel it was worth it.


Well, we spent over $50 million creating this very sophisticated network of floodgates that actually protect all the assets. In Allison, we lost over $2 billion in research from the flooding of all of our buildings. These integrated floodgates are essentially submarine doors that actually protect these assets, and that the water really pushes off, maintains in streets, and flows away from the medical city.

MILES O'BRIEN: So, the floodgates are down?

BILL MCKEON: The floodgates are down, yes.

They did they job. And it's really a marvelous feat of engineering and, today, all of those are open. There are cars in the street. Our helicopters are landing here nonstop from surrounding areas.

MILES O'BRIEN: So you have 10,000 beds in all. We can presume they were close to being full. Do you have any reports of patients being adversely affected by the storm?

BILL MCKEON: We brought in physicians and nurses, technicians throughout ahead of time, and that we have all been here on this campus really for last five days, day and night.

It's been quite miraculous to see the number of dedicated medical professionals that have really came here ahead of time been away from their families, and dedicated to serving the patients here this environmental catastrophe.

MILES O'BRIEN: So, just to be clear, the staff, it's stuck inside, for all intents and purposes?

BILL MCKEON: That's correct.

MILES O'BRIEN: You have in your medical city the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a world-renowned cancer center.

Many people are outpatient and in need of ongoing chemotherapy regimens. What are people in those situations supposed to do?


Well, again, the medical staff actually, knowing this was coming, had accelerated some of those chemotherapy sessions. But, also, people are still accessing local hospitals in their communities, can also receive that outpatient care.

They have rescheduled now. So, when you think about it, from the medical city, really, it's only been two days, three days that people from far outside have not been able to access the medical center, so those are being rescheduled now as we speak.

MILES O'BRIEN: There were some early reports that the Ben Taub Hospital in the medical center was evacuated. I understand that's not true. Would you clarify what happened there?


So, there was a water pipe that actually burst in the basement of Ben Taub Hospital. Initially, they were thinking they might have to evacuate the building, but found that they contained the leak. The leak did actually contaminate some of their dry goods, some of their food supply.

So they actually asked police and fire department to really divert new patients on to one of our many hospitals here on our campus. And they continue to provide care for the patients that are there at Ben Taub.

So, some of the critical patients moved across to other hospitals, less than 60. But they continue to provide care to the patients that are there in the hospital. So they have not evacuated Ben Taub. Just some of the patients have had to move across to some of the sister institutions.

MILES O'BRIEN: Give us a just little bit of perspective on that. Any time you think about moving patients, particularly those in greatest need of care, that gets a little bit dicey, doesn't it?


With 23 hospitals all in one campus, the movement of those patients is essentially across to another building. Many of our buildings are connected through tunnels or for above-ground — above-ground ramps across to other hospitals, so it's actually done quite easily here on the Texas Medical Center.

MILES O'BRIEN: Bill McKeon, thanks for being with us.

BILL MCKEON: Delighted to be here.

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