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Hospitals Cope During Water Crisis

By Stephen McDill and Amy McCullough

Jackson metro area hospitals have been coping during this week’s water crisis, some of them postponing elective surgeries or transferring procedures to other locations.

Baptist Medical Center, a 642-bed facility near downtown Jackson, canceled elective surgeries this week but operated all emergency care as usual.

“Water pressure at Baptist is getting back to normal,” said Robby Channell, spokesperson for Baptist Health Systems. “We still monitor it. Tanker trucks with 10,000 gallons of water have been on our campus pumping water into our air and heating system.

“Elective surgeries are still canceled, but urgent and emergency surgeries are still possible. We didn’t have to move surgeries to other locations,” he said. The hospital Emergency Department has remained operational throughout the week, and “water is still being delivered to patient rooms,” Channell said.

Jackson has been under the boil-water notice since Monday when city water lines began to burst after sustained subfreezing temperatures over the weekend. More than 130 water line ruptures were discovered throughout the week as weather warmed and ice thawed. Gov. Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency on Monday.

Most water line breaks have been repaired, and adequate water pressure has returned to most city buildings, enabling office restrooms to function.

Due to its emergency plan, St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson has been able to provide care and scheduled procedures with minimal interruption throughout the week.

St. Dominic’s has its own water tower, which it built after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We reassessed our preparedness for a major disaster like Katrina and determined we were not as prepared in two critical areas – electricity and water,” said Dennis Wilson, St. Dominic’s emergency coordinator and safety director, in a statement. “To protect both of those vital resources necessary for our operations, we installed a facility generator to fully supply the entire hospital. In addition, we built our own water tower … Today we are realizing the benefit of our planning,” Wilson said.

In preparation for a potential continuation of the water shortage, supplementary water tankers have been brought to St. Dominic’s from St. Catherine’s Village in Madison, a facility which the hospital owns.

Central Mississippi Medical Center, a 426-bed Jackson hospital operated by the state division of Health Management Associates, Inc., also updated its emergency preparedness plan in the wake of Katrina.
“We are very fortunate in that we had an emergency plan prepared from the onset,” said CMMC spokesperson Becky Martin.

Martin said that the hospital’s corporate office ordered tankers of water that could be used to pressurize the building’s plumbing. More than 20,000 gallons of water was obtained from Clinton and Madison with 12 tankers being stationed at CMMC throughout the crisis.

“Our sister hospitals at Crossgates, River Oaks, Women’s and Madison County Medical Center all stood by us and provided us with medical supplies,” Martin said.

CMMC has continued to perform all surgeries, including elective procedures, since Monday.

University of Mississippi Medical Center also has its own water tower as well as its own well and pump. Comments from a hospital spokesperson could not be obtained by press time.

Following today’s restoration of adequate water pressure, the state Health Department began collecting water samples for testing. The Department will collect 160 samples of ground and surface water to test over the holiday weekend at state Public Health Laboratory.

Jackson’s boil-water alert can be lifted after two consecutive days of clear samples.

About Amy McCullough

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